By RON FANFAIR
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) leaders are expected to sign off on the revised Treaty of Basseterre in December. This will pave the way for a stronger and relevant economic union that will adequately address the challenges of globalization and trade liberalization that have negatively affected the islands’ major commodity exports of sugar and bananas.
Seven countries – Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines – signed the treaty in June 1981 to set up the umbrella organization. The British Virgin Islands and Anguilla joined the OECS in 1984 and 1995 respectively.
In the past 28 years, the OECS has evolved to include a range of areas of functional co-operation. These include a single currency – the Eastern Caribbean dollar – a central bank and a supreme court.
OECS residents have also benefited from other joint undertakings such as telecommunications and civil aviation, education, health, sports, agriculture, export development and the environment.
Distinguished St. Lucian scholar, Dr. June Sooner, who is considered one of the Caribbean’s leading experts on integration issues, said the economic union will significantly advance the OECS integration process.
“We already have a number of things that are working very well, so obviously the next step will be to establish an economic union,” Soomer, St. Lucia’s Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to CARICOM, the OECS and Diaspora Affairs, told Share while in Toronto last week to meet with nationals.
“Fundamental to the economic union will be changes to the governance structure and the insertion of an assembly of parliamentarians that gives people a voice. Right now, we have The Authority (the supreme policy-making body) comprising the heads of government, but the rest of the government really does not have a voice. The creation of the assembly will provide opposition members, civil society and different other groups with a voice in the parliament.”
In addition to The Authority and the proposed new Regional Assembly and Commission that will provide for a strengthened secretariat, the governance structure also includes Economic Affairs, Monetary and Ministerial councils.
Under the economic union, countries will commit to establish a common market that will facilitate the free movement of labour, the harmonization of monetary and trade policies, the co-ordination of fiscal policy to achieve sound management of the economic space and the establishment of rules to regulate and promote competition within the shared economic space.
Soomer, who lectured at the University of the West Indies in Barbados and in North Carolina and served as an adviser in the Eastern Central Bank’s Strategic Policy & Planning unit before returning to St. Lucia last year, said OECS countries are committed to forging economic relations with Trinidad & Tobago after the sub-region economic union is set up.
“Trinidad & Tobago has proved itself to be quite a partner to the OECS countries over the last few years and particularly during the financial crisis,” said Soomer who has written extensively on cricket and the politics of West Indies integration.
“They have been extremely supportive of the region. Apart from that, T & T recognizes that the success of the OECS is fundamental to their own success. We import 60 per cent of their goods, so if we are not successful, T & T will lose a big part of its market. T & T does not want to be a 10th member of the OECS. It just wants to be a partner with us.”
Soomer headed a delegation to Toronto that included Ministry of Finance director and deputy director Isaac Anthony and Francis Fontenelle respectively, St. Lucia Development Bank managing director Jean-Francois Sonson, National Development Corporation board director Vern Gill and research officer Aretha Regis.
She addressed the July 2010 Homecoming to celebrate the contributions of St. Lucians living overseas to their homeland and adopted countries and challenged nationals to become more involved in St. Lucia’s development.
“Just because you have removed yourself physically does not mean that you cannot contribute,” said Soomer who heads the Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit established in the Office of the Prime Minister. “We are also looking for the young people of St. Lucian background to become involved in the process because if we are looking at sustainable development, the youths must be there.”