Age 21 is not a time for contemplating death. But that’s the way it is. CARICOM has not amounted to much in terms of production and trade. Its functional tasks are a classic example of ‘spill-around’ - a proliferation of low-politic cooperation activities convenient to governments that can decide neither to go forward nor backward. Foreign policy coordination has been a non-starter.

CARICOM’s economic tasks have been overtaken by events (though they were justifiable at the time of its formation). Economic policy of the individual States, as well as recent decisions made by the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government, reflect a free market stance on integration into the world economy, itself now more open than before. It is represented by the stabilization and adjustment programmes that have been adopted, adherence to the principles of the (expanded) GATT/WTO, the establishment of the ACS, trade liberalization agreements with several Latin American countries, the keen interest on the part of some CARICOM States to join NAFTA, and the commitment that all of them have to participate in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) by 2005.

Intra-regional free trade, a common external tariff, the regional enterprise regime and the single market and economy, including a common monetary system and currency have become redundant in this context. Indeed, they make little sense in a situation where intra-regional transactions are a tiny fraction of the total. Integration of the individual States into the FTAA/world economy will more rapidly and effectively impose integration among the CARICOM States than will perfection of the present regime pave the way for concerted entry into a liberalized hemisphere and global economy.

CARICOM, as an economic integration strategy, has failed because it was always a second-best solution, predicated on the acceptance, out of necessity, of substantial protectionist costs and the implementation of effective compensatory mechanisms for maldistributed costs and benefits. In any event, individual States have always been prepared to defect, indeed if not in word, for second-best arrangements, while the reality of uneven costs and benefits has served to curtail the deepening of integrationist ventures. Neofunctionalism also has failed because the strategy lacked coherence and premeditated design on the part of the Community’s bureaucracy and because it was always seen as ceding some of the fruits of State sovereignty for gains that were negligible.


It is thus time to return to the sources, to the ‘first-best’, to the truly authentic rationale for Caribbean integration. Regrettably, the West Indian Commission (1992) missed this opportunity. It sought to avoid commitment in the foreseeable future to political integration, and instead, advocated perfection of the economic integration instruments of CARICOM. It attempted to straddle three stools at the same time -West Indian integration, Caribbean regional-wide integration and global integration - and ended up by falling between them. No cogent new directions are discernible in this heavily compromised schema. This is regrettable because, in confining its sights to conventional notions of political integration (parliamentary union) and economic integration (single market) it has not only preserved a false dichotomy between them, but precluded consideration of more creative and fruitful options.

The new rationale must be based more solidly on first-best options, of which cultural identity and kinship are the centrepiece. These are already to a good extent part of West Indian reality and is thus the core of any institutional expression of political unity. Indeed, it may be said that these essential ingredients are far more developed in West Indian society than are reflected in its political institutions Political expression needs to catch up with social reality. In many ways West Indian society is more united than the present European Union. A more fundamental expression of its identity, as representing a distinctive society, would not on1y correspond better to reality but would have positive psychological benefits in enhancing our people’s pride, self-esteem and confidence. It could bring with it a number of practical benefits, such as those associated with civil society and good governance, administrative economies of scale, enhanced negotiating status and international diplomatic, intellectual, cultural and sporting profiles, and more effective self-protection.

A political expression of cultural identity and kinship is now a real and urgent necessity because CARICOM States have become increasingly peripheral and isolated, with tenuous, virtually non-existent, links to the external Community - Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America or North America. The Caribbean may well be the most isolated community of people in the world. Even the strategic, colonial and migrant ties of the recent past have disappeared, while its diaspora becomes more remote with the passing years. At the same time, even as the nations of the world become more economically open, they are becoming more culturally and racially self-conscious and closed. Of course, if the people of the Caribbean themselves and our political leaders do not share this feeling of identity and kinship, or if they feel it is adequately expressed in a cricket team, and well represented in the barracoons of London and Miami, or if they see themselves as Latino or American or world citizens, then we might just as well call it a day.


The political expression I foresee is that of a Union of West Indian States, incorporating West Indian citizenship, carrying with it generally agreed rights and duties, and co-existing with citizenship of the individual member-States. In much the same way as the European Union (Maastricht Treaty) and European citizenship were selectively defined to suit the peculiar needs and limits of the European States concerned (e.g. it co-exists with "Statehood and sovereignty of the individual States; does not provide for a European parliament with legislative powers or for the elimination of individual Member-states diplomatic representation and UN membership, or for the immediate and complete freedom of movement of workers), so too can a Union of West Indian States be defined to suit our evolving requirements and possibilities. Thus, the West Indian Union can be an indigenous and dynamic concept. Statehood and sovereignty need not, as has been traditionally thought, be fixed, indivisible and wholly externally determined.

Developments along these lines will also ultimately strengthen CARICOM’s relations with the non-anglophone Caribbean, Central America and the rest of Latin America. For a pre-requisite for reaching out, especially to neighbours that are so culturally and geographically cohesive, will be the enhancement of the CARICOM people’s cultural identity, self-knowledge and self-confidence.

The economic/functional dimension of the Union would revolve in the future also around activities that are inherently of the first-best. These are activities that are better pursued regionally than internationally or nationally. They will be activities that are unique or least-cost or for which there are no alternative options. The latter are activities that necessarily require regional solutions, such as in respect of regional commons, regional public goods and regional resource complementarity. Regional commons are commonly shared goods or ‘bads’, such as the sea, airspace, the weather, disease, pest infestation. Regional public goods are goods and services which if not provided regionally would not be provided at all, such as regional security, regional social infrastructure like high technology and advanced scientific training and medical facilities, regional physical infrastructure like sea and air transportation and telecommunications. And, regional resource complementarity are combinations of resources that are unlikely to be exploited other than through regional arrangements, such as food demand/arable land, mineral smelting/hydro-electricity, and diversified financial services.

The Community’s economic/functional institutions of the future would therefore be phased out of their present preoccupation with, for example, managing the various instruments that constitute and support the Common Market, and instead should be devoted to: energizing the private sector for its role in region-wide enterprise development; identifying and promoting the development of those truly first-best regional activities, including regional infrastructure and regional services; and supporting member governments by organizing regular, research-based consultations on macro-economic and national and regional policy assessments and outlook analyses.

Finally, in regard to production and trade, activities that do not meet the test of the first-best on a regional scale would be left in the future to market forces, to the dictates of international comparative advantage. This policy would, however, allow for reasonable adjustment periods for critical industries, especially agriculture, that cannot immediately compete internationally, and of course, for a genuine determination that international trading partners are not themselves using protectionist subsidies and other unfair trading practices.

Since individual CARICOM States are progressively moving in this direction, albeit at different rates, some more quickly and comprehensively than others, it would make sense to recognize this reality at the CARICOM level as well. It serves no good purpose to pretend that intra-CARICOM production and trade are being developed under the impetus of Community regimes such as the Common External Tariff, among others, that neither confer common protection or are effective in promoting resource-based industries and trade within the region.

An approach along these lines would introduce a good deal more realism and flexibility into the increasingly complex situation in which CARICOM finds itself, with overlapping and inconsistent subregional, hemispheric and world commitment, and defacto defections by the individual States.

How to proceed is now the question. The political leadership should show the way. Does it have a vision for CARICOM that is anything more than a meeting-place for functional cooperation? Can the regional bureaucracy itself orchestrate a truly deepening process, politicians notwithstanding, a la Jacques Delors. At any rate, the past and the future are now in collision. And it could mean death, or a new birth.

(Dr. Havelock Ross-Brewster is Executive Director for the Caribbean at the Inter-American Development Bank, Washington, D.C.)

[This contribution summarizes the author’s ideas on the future of CARICOM that have been published in a series of articles over the last two years].

New Vistas

For A Caribbean Community