KINGSTON: The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) must deal urgently with the issue of the “altered and altering” conditions of regional integration, says St. Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
Dr. Gonsalves made his remark at the closing session of the “50/50: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty” conference, hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.
Gonsalves said that he has already written to CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, on the issue.
Gonsalves, who also chairs the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), said it was time for CARICOM to discuss the issues dispassionately “and prepare ourselves for the altered and altering conditions of the regional integration movement”.
The Vincentian leader pointed out that in the northern Caribbean, countries which have signed on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) – Jamaica, Haiti and the Bahamas – have been drawn into a trading arrangement with the Dominican Republic, which is not a member of CARICOM.
“When the liberalization process accelerates further, Cuba will become part of that northern axis, and Puerto Rico will get a special dispensation,” said Gonsalves. “Jamaica will still be within CARICOM with everything which we have, but because of the closeness in this northern pole and the ease of transportation, you are going to have a different kind of relationship.”
Gonsalves said while CARICOM was “afraid” of discussing Venezuela President Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a counter to the U.S.-led idea of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), three CARICOM Member States – Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines – had already joined ALBA.