Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says the current situation in which holders of Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) passports are not enjoying any real attendant benefits is “almost laughable”. The situation is not “almost” laughable. It is laughable.
The CARICOM passports provide not one more practical benefit than the national passports of the CARICOM member countries.
At the airports of some CARICOM countries, many holders of CARICOM passports are subject to the same scrutiny, the same suspicion and the same grilling by immigration officers that they endured prior to the adoption of the passport by some CARICOM states.
The CARICOM passport does not even provide the “symbolism” of one-Caribbean people that it was supposed to engender.
If anything, it does the opposite by emphasising that, despite the fact that CARICOM has existed for 35 years, there remains no welcome mat at the doorstep of many CARICOM countries for the people of their partner states.
In the official literature related to the Caribbean Single Market (CSM), it says that CARICOM enjoys “free movement of goods, services, capital and people”.
A quarrel could be picked and won on the motion that none of these categories of free movement exist, but on the last of them – people – most of all.
The reality is that CARICOM is a single market “in the making”, and one that is being made very slowly despite the urgency that has existed for some time to get on with its completion.
North Americans and Europeans enjoy far greater freedom of everything in CARICOM states than CARICOM nationals do. And, the recently signed Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and individual CARICOM states will give European companies and individuals greater freedom, rights and protections in CARICOM countries than CARICOM governments give to companies and individuals of their own states.
Some governments will point out that there are groups within their countries who, through their own insecurities, are virulently anti CARICOM nationals.
That is so. But no government should pander to such short-sighted insularity. Instead, they should educate their populations about the importance of deeper CARICOM integration for their own survival.
They ought not to pretend – as some do – that they possess some unidentified magic formula to prosper on their own for it is simply not true.
Governments who indulge in this pretence do their people an enormous disservice. If people conduct their lives in the belief that they have no need to worry, when the crunch comes, they will be fatally unprepared.
Two points are worth making here.
First, in the case of many CARICOM countries, a significant portion of their exports of manufactured goods and services relies on the CARICOM market. If the CARICOM markets bought elsewhere, these countries would suffer – a fact that many governments fail to tell their people.
Second, if CARICOM nationals in many CARICOM states were to leave, the economies of these states would decline in myriad ways.
Not only would they lose skilled and unskilled labour that they need, they would lose the taxes these people pay, the services they use such as rented houses, and the money they spend in the economy on items such as food, clothing, transportation, utilities, and medical care.
In this regard, the authorities in all CARICOM countries should be mindful of the importance of according to CARICOM nationals, who are legitimately living and working in their states, the rights and respect to which they are entitled.
They should not be treated as “second-class”; they should not be exploited; and they should have the same rights of protection as any legitimate resident in the country.
Picking-up people in the middle of the night and deporting them without due process is not right or legal; nor is deporting people who are legitimately waiting for a work permit to be renewed. This is especially so when the only people treated in this way are those from the Caribbean.
It should also be clearly understood by all that at some time in the not too distant future, all CARICOM countries will be confronted by the stark reality that they cannot survive on their own.
In the cycle of livelihood, some countries have enjoyed the upswings that have come from preferential markets and official development assistance – both of which are declining fast.
In the enjoyment of the temporary upswing, they seem to have forgotten that CARICOM’s small and vulnerable economies are not sufficiently well endowed or diversified to survive on their own, and the downturns come. And when they come, they do so with a vengeance.
Were the countries of CARICOM a genuine Single Market in which free movement of goods, services, capital and people were a reality, they might have a better chance of survival.
As one small example, think of what would have happened in the mighty United States in the present financial crisis, if it was not a single market and economy and each of its 51 states had to struggle for itself.
Businesses in CARICOM states have long recognised the value of a Single Market with free movement of goods, services, capital and people. If there were free movement in all these areas, they know that CARICOM would be a stronger entity today, better able to cope with the world economic crisis.
And, on the matter of free movement of people, businesses know that they would have a wider pool of people on whom to draw for the knowledge and skills they need to compete both in the global community and in their own domestic market where, increasingly, they have to fend off foreign competition.
The most apt analogy is the West Indian Cricket team. If we can’t find 11 globally competitive players in all the CARICOM states together, how will we each find them from within our individual borders?
The truth is that the issue of movement of CARICOM nationals between all CARICOM countries can be settled if CARICOM becomes a genuine Single Market with freedom of movement of all the factors of production, including labour. Both the gain and the pain will be shared by all.
(The writer is a business consultant and former Caribbean diplomat)
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