Radio Editorial - Talk City 91.1 FM - Trinidad December 18, 2013
Trinidad and Tobago was among the first signatories to the treaty establishing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy in 2006.
We entered into this binding, international treaty – a revision of the original 1973 Treaty of Chaguaramas – not as a passive participant that had shrugged its shoulders and said “what the heck, everybody else is doing why can’t we?” But as a leading partner in an effort to eliminate pre-existing conditions that restricted the free movement of resources – corporate expertise, money, productive capacity and people.
We had learnt from 33 years operating as a community and common market that cross-border relations needed to operate under arrangements that removed the obstacles to development both as individual countries and as a region.
We had seen what had happened in Europe where old foes and competitors were expressing confidence in the notion that expanding markets beyond national borders required more than the complex maze of bilateral and multilateral arrangements that had become self-defeating and cumbersome.
We learnt from the lessons of the Africans that had adopted the CARICOM model in developing the trade components of our own arrangements, via an emerging African Union, that you needed to simultaneously grow domestic economies while embedding productive capacity within the framework of much broader market arrangements.
As the oldest integration model in the developing world, we had long learnt that collaboration on issues such as educational standards, joint research and development in agriculture, monitoring and adaptation to environmental challenges, meteorology, aviation policy, telecommunications, legal training and other important areas was better done as a team than as small, vulnerable economies.
Then came this thing we refer to as the CSME – the natural culmination of a process which recognised the benefit of acting together, not always as a collective of sovereign states, but always, when it came to the pressing demands of development, as a single voice operating across a seamless geographical space.
The free movement of skills, as opposed to the blanket free movement of people, was viewed as a principal pre-requisite to achieving the objectives of the CSME. As a beneficiary of the process, I can tell you that the arrangements are eminently orderly. The current categories of skills now include media workers, university graduates, artisans, sports persons, self-employed persons in defined areas and, more recently, domestic and hospitality workers.
Under the current arrangements, persons holding skills certificates in these areas, are entitled as a right, not a privilege, to live and work in the Caricom country of their choice and in which such skills are required.
Throughout the Caribbean, there are now thousands of persons in these categories who benefit from this provision as CARICOM nationals and do not require a work permit.
However, the vast majority of intra-regional immigrants who live and work in host territories do so under work permit arrangements, and in some cases do so having breached immigration regulations. The intention, in the end, is to render the last two categories extinct in recognition of a single space.
Not many people would have known that in order to facilitate the easy movement of visitors to the Caribbean during the 2007 Cricket World Cup, all of our countries, including Trinidad and Tobago actually instituted such an arrangement and it was possible, though not widely practiced, to have entered other CARICOM countries without a passport. The expiry of the enabling sunset legislation meant the end of this arrangement.
And I remember asking the then deputy prime minister of Barbados, Ms Mia Mottley, whether the system had been abused and that hundreds of undocumented immigrants had entered her country and stayed, as previously feared – particularly in Barbados which has traditionally attracted Guyanese, Vincention, Jamaican and St Lucian visitors interested in particularly long stays. Her answer was no.
There was also no evidence that this had occurred anywhere else.
This should have taught the region a few lessons. The first is that there is no desire by hordes of CARICOM nationals to unlawfully storm across the borders of any of our countries. The second is that the vast majority of persons moving and working and living in countries other than their own in the Caribbean are doing so under work permit conditions and not as a result of the CSME and, finally, we are seeing where national economic cycles continue to drift from one geographic pole to another.
Today it’s our turn at the podium, tomorrow it’s someone else. As the Barbadians, ask the Bahamians, ask the Jamaicans.
I say all of this essentially to rubbish the claim that our engagement of the CARICOM process has not worked in our favour. It has. Trinidad and Tobago is a net economic beneficiary of single market conditions in the Caribbean. We are not losing at the game.
Much of the fears being expressed in my view, are xenophobic in nature and more often arise out of unfounded, uninformed opinions on something that has a pretty simple and straight-forward guiding principle – United we Stand. Divided we Fall.