"The scale of this operation is so considerably larger than CARICOM that many people have already begun to wonder whether this does not mean, step-by-step with the realisation of the new Association, a corresponding erosion of the existing CARICOM. Inevitably, CARICOM will be affected by these developments (the formation of the ACS), but it has the strength and the resilience to adapt, to adjust and to grow, in response to the robust development of its brainchild."

[Extract from Statement by Patrick Manning, Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago, made on April 10, 1995 in Kingston, Jamaica]

On this issue, the interested person should carefully read Chapter XI on Shaping External Relations in Time for Action (The Report of the West Indian Commission).

Any West Indian who has read the relevant sections of the Report of the West Indian Commission (pages 416-458) will see clearly that the proposal for the establishment of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) was made by the Commissioners on the understanding that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) would always act as a group within that body. If this understanding was not present, many members of the Commission (myself included) would not have subscribed to the proposal.

Since the signing of the Convention establishing the ACS in 1994, some have raised the question whether CARICOM is now superfluous.

This is like asserting that the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is not necessary because all its members are also members of CARICOM.

Experience over the last 14 years has shown that the smaller islands of the Eastern Caribbean need among themselves a very high degree of Economic and other forms of integration, Common Services and Functional Cooperation and "the Harmonisation of Foreign Policies" (to use the words of the Treaty of Basseterre). Their proximity to each other also makes for joint problems (for example, the Law of the Sea and bananas) and consequently, requires joint approaches and many joint activities. They share a single Judiciary and Judicial system. They have a common currency and a single Central Bank. As far as we know, no one has ever asserted that OECS and CARICOM are not compatible or that the OECS is superfluous, given the existence of CARICOM. As everyone knows, they are complementary, not rival entities.

In fact, while fully committed to the deepening of CARICOM and to membership of the OECS, all the countries of the Leeward and Windward Islands could sooner or later end up with a Political Union and nobody could deny that this would clearly be in the interest of the Caribbean Community.

More or less, the same applies to CARICOM in its relationship with the ACS. CARICOM has a population of approximately 5.75 million people, while the total population of the ACS is some 200 million. Precisely because of these circumstances, CARICOM and the OECS will always s have an indispensable role to play. Even with the full functioning of the ACS, a CARICOM group approach must be an integral part of that functioning. Moreover, as will be seen in the Chapter on The Widening of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM will most likely be developing trade and other economic relations with other sub-regional groupings within the ACS. And the existence of the ACS should itself facilitate this process of cooperation among sub-regional groups.

Given our special features as a subregion with an identity of its own and seeking to use both the OECS and CARICOM as "shields", we as a subgrouping must cooperate harmoniously with much more powerful countries and sub-groupings in the entire Western Hemisphere.

A good example of a sub-grouping within a much larger economic grouping is Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (BENELUX) within the European Economic Community (EEC) when it was first established in January 1958. The three BENELUX countries were already in an Economic Union; and after the EEC began its operations, became even more economically unified. Nobody raised the question as to whether BENELUX would dissolve or fade away with the coming into being of the EEC. Surely we cannot be so unsophisticated in international affairs and so lacking in a sense of West Indian identity and farsightedness that we would seek to dismantle CARICOM or project its fading away because of the establishment of the ACS. The fact is that we need a deeper and more unified CARICOM to face up to the much vaster Association of Caribbean States. Indeed, the coming into being of the ACS must be accompanied by a deepening of CARICOM and a much more unified stance on matters of foreign policy, including external trade relations.

On a very pragmatic level, an English banker who knows the West Indies, the wider Caribbean and Latin America recently put it as follows: ‘the fact that one or two CARICOM countries are keen on forging new practical trade and economic associations with the wider Caribbean and Latin America does not mean that they should discard existing associations" - that is, CARICOM.

In dealing with the ACS and other Latin American and Caribbean countries, we must have no illusions. We are the smallest and probably the least powerful countries in the Hemisphere and we need what Prime Minister John Compton has called the "shield" provided by CARICOM so that our West Indian identity and some degree of effective sovereignty can be enhanced, while we strengthen and toughen our economies through links with the outside world.

The views expressed here have been put in more poetic, yet precise terms by the late Errol Barrow, in his Chairman’s Statement at the 1975 Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Caribbean Development Bank. He was talking about the relationships between the "Three Caribbeans" (or what nearly 25 years ago Shridath Ramphal felicitously termed the three "ever-widening circles of kinship" -CARICOM, the wider Caribbean Archipelago and the Mainland countries. Errol Barrow, at the 1975 meeting of the Board of Governors of the Caribbean Development Bank, stated as follows: "We must strengthen the inner circle in order to survive [and] move to wider circles of regional cooperation if we are to hold our own".

The need to strengthen the innermost circle of CARICOM also implies that a single CARICOM country should not negotiate by itself trade and tariff agreements with a non-CARICOM ACS country or sub-grouping. This would fracture the CARICOM CET and other CARICOM joint arrangements for external trade, investment, rights of establishment and to provide services and intellectual property arrangements. This action by one member country would result in de facto departure of that country from CARICOM. If this practice is adopted by even a few other CARICOM countries, CARICOM would disintegrate and render declarations of an early movement to a single market and economy (or an economic union by the year 2000) completely hollow. To this extent, the rest of the world would continue not to take us too seriously.

Any sensible West Indian knows that the Caribbean Community is not only about trade and economics. It is, additionally, very much about intangible factors such as a sense of community and brotherhood and sisterhood and a strengthened West Indian identity. Even in practical and hard-headed business terms, it would be foolish to give up existing associates in order to have relations with new ones. It should also be noted that an important part of the case for CARICOM rests on geo-political considerations.

Let us West Indians, ever united to overcome our individual smallness and relative lack of individual power, enter positively into new relationships with our wider Caribbean and Latin American neighbours on the basis of a Single CARICOM Market and Economy (or an Economic Union) determined to preserve our identity as a West Indian people and to present a unified common front on matters of foreign policy and external trade relations.

Common sense suggests that CARICOM could become of increasing importance to us while as a united CARICOM we develop relationships with our larger neighbours.

The issue of the relationship between CARICOM and the ACS is really quite simple. If we were shortsighted and thoughtless enough to abandon CARICOM for the ACS, this would mean the end of West Indian unity, identity, self-reliance and self-respect. We would in the crudest manner be choosing "marginalisation" or "absorption" instead of "interdependence".

[William Demas was former Secretary- General of CARICOM and President of the C.D.B. At present he is attached to the Andrew Mellon Foundation, Jamaica.]

The Relationship Between


*by William G. Demas