Building A Solid Foundation

Intergovernmental groupings are associations of several states that cooperate on matters of similar interest. They usually offer free trade that help facilitate the movement of goods, services, capital, and people across their borders. They push for political dialogue and decision-making mechanisms that involve regular summits, ministerial meetings, and parliamentary assemblies. An important focus is also on regional identity and a sense of solidarity. Together they also confront common challenges and opportunities in the areas of security, development, environment, human rights, and others.

The 4th of July marks the 50-year golden anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which formally established the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Signed initially by four member states, it has over the years grown into a vibrant community of 20 nations, including 15 full member states and 5 associate members, which span throughout the Caribbean region.

The full members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, while its associate members include Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Consequently, all associate members are also Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom.

Today, CARICOM stands as a powerful alliance, with a rich and diverse history comprising of about 19 million people, of which a huge percentage are under the age of 30! Its members are divided into two separate groups: more developed states and less developed states. The organization has recognized that not all members have the same economic potential, and one of the goals of integration is to help the less developed states catch up.

CARICOM rests on four main pillars: economic integration; foreign policy coordination; human and social development; and security. The main driving force behind assimilation has been the economy. Caribbean nations are small and relatively underdeveloped, they do not possess a strong industrial base and their low populations make for relatively small markets. Thus, a revised treaty was implemented and signed in 2001, creating the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), an economic alliance aimed at overcoming the limitations imposed by low population and underdevelopment. The revised Treaty of Chaguaramas created a single market space which included services, capital, technology, and free movement of labor.

The CSME seeks to implement provisions for the removal of trade and professional restrictions. These provisions facilitate the right to establish businesses, to provide regional services, the free movement of capital and the coordination of economic policies. A free trade area enables states to stop competing for market shares on certain products, and instead allows them to focus on producing products in which they have a comparative advantage. This also presents an advantage for the ordinary consumer, who can buy higher quality products at lower prices. This free trade area motivates industries to become more productive and competitive, thus spurring innovation and technological advancements. CARICOM has also enabled a significant transfer of intellectual property and technological know-how among its members.

The CSME is a developing integration – the number of areas of close coordination is increasing and not all member states of CARICOM are parties to the CSME. So far, the CSME has 12 members, but it is expected to grow in the future. When fully completed, the CSME will allow for the intra-regional movement of capital and labor among member states. Additionally, members will share monetary and fiscal policies, and businesses operating in the economic union will have access to a larger market. As of today, there are still various aspects that need to be finalized by the different member states.

Integration into a single market has certainly helped member states improve their economies and provide a better standard of living for their citizens. In today’s globalized world, regional economic associations are of the utmost importance. Rarely are nations able to improve their economies without closely cooperating and integrating with their neighbors.

But CARICOM is not just an economic unification, it also serves its member states by coordinating their foreign and security policies. As emphasized, Caribbean nations are rather small and insignificant on their own. CARICOM enables them to closely synchronize their foreign policies and speak through a single voice, thus representing an influential bloc in world politics.

In the last few years CARICOM has been edging to formulate a foreign policy stance in a way that takes account the region’s smallness and unique requirements. It has been attempting this against a background of an increasing diversity of bilateral relationships that CARICOM’s member states have established, and an increasingly volatile external environment. The world has never been this divided since the end of the Cold War. Alliance politics regarding the great power competition are back, and CARICOM members will certainly be increasingly pressed to choose a side. The Russia-Ukraine war has already tested the block’s cooperation on foreign policy issues – a test that it has successfully passed.

Security is also one of the pillars of the Community. The Caribbean region is constantly confronting drug cartels, gun smugglers, and human traffickers. Thus, CARICOM established an institution called the Caribbean Community Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), which promotes information exchange, regional capacity building, and collaboration to improve regional security. There is also the Regional Security System, a separate body focused on collective security among eight of the CARICOM member states, which analyzes criminal activity in the region. It is also the first to respond when natural disasters occur.

On its 50th anniversary, CARICOM faces many challenges. Today’s world is a hostile environment for small and vulnerable states, who must find a way to respond to geopolitical changes in a coherent way, to the best of their ability. Thus, it is imperative that member states work more closely and rapidly in implementing the Common Single Market and Economy, which also needs to include more member states. Only through an ever-closer union can the block rise to the challenges of an increasingly divided world.

The future for CARICOM is bright and promising. It has made significant achievements in the last five decades. Not just the establishment of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), but also the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CPHA), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), among many others. So, it’s no surprise that it’s the oldest and most successful regional integration in the developing world. But to continue to be so, it will have to constantly keep expanding its role.

CARICOM will continue to meet difficult challenges ahead, including the ongoing onslaught of climate change, and the long-term economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, plus other unforeseen external pressures. But as history teaches, its people have shown resilience and unity in overcoming odds, and they will not only endure but thrive in the face of adversity. Without doubt, CARICOM is committed to advancing its vision of a prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable Caribbean Community for all its citizens.

Dr Matthew Pajares-Yngson
Dr Matthew Pajares-Yngson
Datu Matthew Pajares Yngson is the Representative Councillor of the Caribbean ASEAN Council, and Diplomatic Affairs Envoy of the Eastern Caribbean-Southeast Asia Chamber, an organization recognized by the United Nations through the UN-OHRLLS. Datu Yngson holds a Doctorate in Professional Studies in International Relations and Diplomacy, and a Master of Arts in International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy. He is the only Filipino-Dominican alumnus of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences since its establishment in 1956. Datu Yngson is also the Royal Ambassador of The 35th Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo and was bestowed the princely title of "Rajah of Tambulian Island" for his humanitarian work in supporting the Tausug people of the Sulu Archipelago.