By David Comissiong*
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, January 10, 2019 (CMC) – I cannot speak for the rest of the Caribbean Community, but I can confidently assert that the people of Barbados, after some 52 years of national independence, are coming (or have come) to the firm, collective realization that their best hope for a secure, prosperous, and opportunity-filled future lies within a successful Caribbean integration movement, rooted in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
You see, as the Barbadian people, under new political leadership, buckled down in the year 2018, to the urgent task of rebuilding the country’s economic fortunes, certain realities became unmistakably clear to those charged with the responsibilities of piloting the ship of state.
I am referring to such realities as the fact, that whilst Barbados’ economy, as measured by its annual Gross Domestic Product, is approximately US$4.53 billion, the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 15 member states of CARICOM is some US$74.8 billion – 16½ times the size of the Barbados economy.
Similarly, while the land mass of Barbados is 430 square kilometres, the collective land mass of CARICOM is 463,300 square kilometres – 1,076 times the size of Barbados! And while the population (and potential market) of Barbados is 280,000 persons, the combined population (and potential market) of CARICOM is 18,335,544 persons – 64 times the size of Barbados’ population and potential market.
What holds true for Barbados also holds true for every other member nation of CARICOM. For example, Trinidad and Tobago may boast of the largest economy in the Caribbean Community, with a GDP of US$21.89 billion, but the combined CARICOM economy is still nearly 3½ times the size of Trinidad and Tobago’s. And while Guyana may boast of the largest land area, at a massive 215,000 square kilometres, the territory of the combined Caribbean Community is still well more than twice the size of Guyana!
We therefore cannot help but recognize the tremendous potential, opportunities and benefits that are there for all Caribbean people and CARICOM nations to capitalize on – if only we can complete the urgent work of establishing a seamlessly inter-connected “Single Market and Single Economy” in our vast and extensive 463,000 square kilometre Caribbean Community space.
Surely, part of our ambition for ourselves, our children and grandchildren must be to have at our disposal, both a physical and an economic space, in which we, and they, can freely roam in search of career and life opportunities.
And in a contemporary world, in which powerful nations are either building border walls to keep out people, who look like us, or are enacting a host of anti-immigrant laws and regulations, we must consider ourselves fortunate to actually have, in place, a CARICOM Skilled Nationals Programme that permits skilled CARICOM citizens to move, freely, across our community in search of gainful employment and business opportunities.
More and more in Barbados, the idea is taking root that we have absolutely nothing to fear from our CARICOM brothers and sisters, who are coming to our island nation and bringing valuable skills and entrepreneurial energy with them. Rather than being a detriment to our nation, these skilled intra-Caribbean migrants actually add value to the society and generate additional economic activity that everyone benefits from.
Similarly with our private sector business persons and professionals – just imagine how much good will redound to our economies, if we are able to put the entire legal and regulatory structure in place to permit business enterprises and capital to move, speedily and efficiently, across the economic and physical space of our extensive multi-territory Community in search of markets and new arenas, in which to build enterprises!
Imagine also the benefits to be derived from a state of affairs, in which we are able to permit the many categories of trained and certified Caribbean “professionals” to register in one CARICOM member state and to have that registration automatically accepted in all 15 member states, thereby enabling the “professional” to move, freely and effortlessly, in the practice of his or her profession!
And surely, it is not beyond us to contemplate a scenario, in which CARICOM governments, CARICOM businesses and the Caribbean labour movement combine to create regional initiatives and structures of production, to establish a system of inter-territory sea transportation; a food production programme to tackle our collective US$4 billion annual food import bill; an import substituting manufacturing programme to tackle our collective annual US$6 billion trade deficit; an initiative to unlock and deploy the potential investment capital to be found in the US$47 billion in savings that our Caribbean people have deposited in banks at ridiculously low interest rates; a system for identifying and collating the high-level technical and managerial expertise that is to be found in our regional public and private sectors and making it available to CARICOM nations in need of such expertise; and the list of possible projects goes on and on!
It should therefore not be too difficult for us – the people of the Caribbean Community – to visualize a beckoning future that is hopeful, positive, and full of possibilities.
It is against this background that I describe this New Year of 2019 as a “Year of Destiny” for our Caribbean Community. This is the year in which our CARICOM Secretariat, our Heads of Government, and all the Councils, organs and bodies of CARICOM must take the Caribbean people on an unprecedented interactive journey to accomplish the several critical projects that have been placed on CARICOM’s 2019 agenda.
And if my fellow Caribbean citizens are not aware, let me inform them now, that these projects include the commencement of initiatives to establish a regional fast ferry maritime transportation system, a Pan-Caribbean news and information network, a joint public/private agricultural and food production project, and an innovative economic engineering project to develop new financial instruments, which will convert a significant portion of Caribbean bank deposits into investment capital.
They also include the fostering of regional economic growth and development by permitting Caribbean companies to bid for large government contracts, right across the community, and the facilitation of an “ease of doing business” regime, with the enactment of a regional Investment Policy and Code, a CARICOM Incentives Regime, a regional Financial Services Agreement, a single region-wide mechanism for the registration of companies, and the full implementation of the CARICOM Skilled Nationals Programme.
If, therefore, a year from now – on the 31st December 2019 – we are able to reflect back on this extensive work programme and to utter a collective “mission accomplished”, we would have effectively launched our very own Caribbean economic, cultural and political “megaship”, and taken a giant and decisive step forward, in securing our future.
*David Comissiong is the Barbados Ambassador to CARICOM.