“Now then, obey their (the people’s) voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them” – 1 Samuel 8:9
I was invited last Thursday to appear as a guest on the CBC morning radio programme “Talk Yuh Talk” hosted by moderator Mr. Sydney Simmons. On Thursdays, this call-in programme focuses on issues related to the Caribbean Single Market & Economy. I was appreciative of the opportunity to interact with some of the regular callers to call-in programmes, as well as others who had a specific interest in the topic and in responding to what I had to say.
We began by discussing the fact that goods have been traded in the Caribbean Single Market for many years but that the services sector, tourism apart, was relatively new and brought with it challenges such as intellectual property management and virtual operation.
One caller lamented the fact that there was not much progress on “The Rights of Establishments” which will allow companies to easily set up shop in any member territory. The present situation, as I understand it, requires a business to be registered in each territory in which its principals are desirous of operating. This allowed me to once again introduce the major issue which is inhibiting the implementation of the Caribbean Single Economy that is the absence of a supranational body to control a common policy space to which each sovereign Caribbean country would release specific authority. If this were in place, then it could certainly address sharing of taxation problems, for example, which could be an issue if companies were allowed to easily set up shop in any member territory.
At this stage in the discussion it was noted that, whereas Heads of Government, which meet at least once a year and make many decisions collectively, are forced, through the exigencies of office, when they return to their sovereign countries, to make decisions which are politically astute at the time, in their national interests, and which might frustrate the enablement of the regional policy positions which they had collectively espoused.
Another issue of concern was that the repatriation of Caribbean born criminals from abroad could be done in a much more caring manner, where Caribbean countries would be advised ahead of time that these criminal elements were being sent back home, so that they could better prepare to receive them and prepare for their rehabilitation and re-entry into society. This too was an issue that could be dealt with more effectively at the supranational body level than the attempts which currently prevail.
There was a caller who posed the view that the failure to achieve the Single Economy was inhibiting the development in the region. There was then some discussion on tourism, the major industry in the Caribbean. I pointed out that, whereas there are some regional institutions which facilitate the marketing of tourism, ultimately it is up to the individual sovereign country to engage aggressively in the sales cycle to be able to attract tourists to our respective shores. This certainly does not require the Single Economy to be in place and, in fact, we have made significant progress within the expansion of tourism over the last 50 years without talk about a Single Economy. To some extent, the services sector generally can also proceed without these elements of a Single Economy.
It was recognised that the Caribbean economies, even if taken collectively, are very small. E.F. Schumacher, author of the book “Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered” recognised that there are advantages of being small and we should exploit them. A small country can seek niche markets around the world which are compatible with our potential to supply. We do not need very much to saturate our hotel stock but, again, our marketing is not as diversified or as aggressive as it should be.
This met with an immediate aggressive response from a caller who said that, many years ago we tried diversifying the markets in support of increasing Barbadian and Caribbean arrivals, but it didn’t work. I pointed out, on the one hand, that over that passage of time the environment had changed and, in particular, the concentration of wealth is not now concentrated in the West but it also extends significantly into the East of our planet. On the other hand, I reminded him of a maxim which was instilled in us by our parents many years ago, which states that, “If at first we don’t succeed, try and try again”. Indeed, callers reported positive experiences during the Cricket World Cup 2007 which could lead to repeat visitors and referrals.
Towards the end of the programme, there was a caller who was lamenting the fact that, after all these years, there was still a problem of regional transportation, particularly of agricultural products. In my opinion, a primary problem in the context of Barbados is that while fishing boats, which bring food from the marine environment to all Barbadians, are free to come and go, cargo vessels which are bringing produce from neighbouring islands are subjected to different rules and costs which make their operation unprofitable.
Another observation that I made was that the CSME promotion only pays lip service to public/private sector consultation. Let us hope and pray that all the voices of the people in the Caribbean will be heard and that our leadership will respond appropriately.