Published On: Mon, Mar 26th, 2018

What is the value of CARICOM to Curaçao and Sint Maarten?

caricom-740GEORGETOWN, WILLEMSTAD - Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was officially assessing the application of Curaçao and Sint Maarten for associate membership. These two islands are separated by 900 km of water but they share a cultural heritage, central bank, and a view that within CARICOM a brighter future awaits them. It also represents an important moment in their history,

This is done in an era when Trumpist protectionism in Washington, Britain departing the EU, and geopolitical upheaval via revisionist leaders like Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, has seen many people come to question the value of regional institutions. So, what do Curaçao and Sint Maarten stand to gain from CARICOM membership? And how valuable is CARICOM membership to regional countries in a world where more and more nations flirt with the idea of ‘going it alone’?

Application Status

All CARICOM nations set out to follow the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Enacted in 1971, the Treaty is a cornerstone of higher regional integration via CARICOM. It provides the path for a clear and cohesive growth of regional trade via the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) established via a reform of the Treaty in the early 2000s. While all CSME participating nations are members of CARICOM‚ not all CARICOM members participate in the CSME.

At the outset it is apparent that the structure of CARICOM is somewhat complex. Curaçao and Sint Maarten have applied to join as associate members (with Martinique‚ Guadeloupe and French Guiana behind them in the queue).

For Curaçao and Sint Maarten‚ membership of CARICOM would bookend a chapter of local diplomacy that first began with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010‚ and saw those islands seek to engage and grow new partnerships in the region.

But for all the publicity surrounding the application of two new members to CARICOM‚ is this the right organisation? And the right time?

CARICOM, the EU and the US

Critics of CARICOM often point to the recent turbulence seen in the European Union, and even the domestic discord across the US’s fifty states, as evidence that growing ties between states in this time and era is ill-advised. This criticism does warrant reflection but also needs to to be considered in context.

The European Union was dealt a swift blow by Brexit. And it’s true that Brussels did itself no favours in maintaining regional integration by allowing obscene scandals, like the olive oil fiasco of 2013, to unfold. This contributed to why many Britons felt the EU lost focus on preventing continental war and growing economies, and instead obsessed over nanny state policy that would ultimately see a humble jug of oil outlawed in British restaurants. But Britain has long flirted with isolationism from Europe.

Similarly, nobody could fairly say that US politics is a leading example of bipartisan consensus right now. It certainly is high octane in the era of Donald Trump but no state governors are to lead a secession movement. The declaration that big institutions are at an end may grab a headline but has little substance below the surface, even if turbulence lies ahead.

The value of CARICOM

At its core, CARICOM holds an ambition to grow economies and boost development, and share approaches to foreign policy and security. As a region where many nations remain on a journey through development, and the relatively small population of our region is scattered across a sizeable body of sea, the goals of growth and security are something all people of the Caribbean family can identify with, and find value in.

By no means does this suggest that CARICOM is now, or will in future be, wholly absent of tensions, but the shared story so many nations hold here of a struggle for independence, an ongoing journey to growth, and a great optimism for the future of regional integration, means comparisons made by critics from afar fail to recognize CARICOM’s distinctive history and unique future.

For Curaaço and Sint Maarten‚ membership of CARICOM would bookend a chapter of local diplomacy that first began with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010.

And there are also issues that represent a strong call to arms for regional nations. The EU’s December 2017 publication of ‘non-cooperative tax jurisdictions’ that singled out numerous Caribbean nations was a lighting rod for criticism. Here, as around the world, the notion of tax minimisation via offshore banking remains controversial.

But the ample representation of regional nations, and the total absence of some closer to Europe’s shores, led to claims that the list “smacks of imperialism”. In areas like this, CARICOM can be a powerful voice for regional parity.

The future of CARICOM is compelling. And especially so as we shift to a truly digital, and global economy. With 60% of CARICOM member-nations’ citizens being under 30 years of age, the organisation is not only a regional body but also a youth movement.

For many years the people of the Caribbean shared a feeling of kinship as New World nations, but less in the way of ongoing dialogue and socialisation among citizens of the wider region. But Generation Y, AKA Millennials, will take leadership in the years ahead, having grown up in a world where the Saint Lucia STAR is only a click and a few keyboard strokes away, no matter whether you are in Saint Lucia or many miles from it.

There is always the need to guard against the ongoing risk that ‘future potential’ is ultimately realised as a certain date. This means the promise of greater integration in future can only be realised with practical actions today that enable it. Initiatives like the Government Island-wide Network (GINet) programme is a key example of how such an ethos can be borne out simply by upgrading the internet.

CARICOM challenges

To suggest that CARICOM is without challenges would not be true. While CARICOM’s structure commendably seeks to ensure nations have an equal voice, the ambition to see that the benefits of integration are equitably shared, and nations progress equally, looks good on paper but is harder to apply in practice.

While the digital economy will help address this in part, enduring challenges, like geographical distance, will not simply disappear. Jamaica will always be better positioned to trade with Northern America, just as Grenada is optimally positioned to trade with South America. Then there’s the risk of natural disasters, and the impact of climate change. Keeping present CARICOM members content, and enticing new ones, is complicated by these realites.

Strenght in numbers

The future of Curacao and Sint Maarten in CARICOM is significant. It is commonly agreed that there are 28 nations of the Caribbean and, if you count Bermuda and Belize, it’s 30. By either measure, the joining of Curaçao and Sint Maarten will take the present group of 15 permanent members, and 5 associate members up to a total of 22.

Simply having some 50% of the region as permanent members, and potentially 7 as associate members, is not a sign that full and total integration is inevitable. But in a time when other political institutions (notwithstanding their different characters) have been tested like never before, the expansion of CARICOM not only grows further a shared regional conversation, but bucks the trend globally.

Sure, swimming against the tide may be harder, but the strongest fish will do so without hesitation. And with the potential addition of Curacao and Sint Maarten to CARICOM, comes a clear sign that our region is growing stronger. And that’s something all people of the Caribbean can celebrate.

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