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Friday, July 07, 2006 

OUR CARIBBEAN: Caricom's big challenge on free movement
Published on: 7/7/06.


NOW THAT the leaders of a dozen Caribbean Community states have finally managed to get their acts together, after some tension-filled negotiations, to launch the CARICOM Single Market (CSM), the primary focus has shifted to completing the overall framework arrangements by 2008 for the promised single regional economy to be a functioning reality shortly thereafter.

Difficult, challenging the task has surely been in moving the process forward from the launch of CARICOM in Trinidad and Tobago in 1973 to the two separate signing ceremonies for inauguration of the CSM in 2006 – first by six countries in Jamaica last January, and another half a dozen this past Monday in St Kitts.

A critical dimension to launching the 12-member CSM was reaching a compromise formula for contributions to the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF), initially with a capital endowment of US$120 million, that requires countries to benefit the most to contribute the most. The formula was finally agreed to at the 27th Summit in Basseterre which concluded last evening.

However, translating satisfaction in milestones in CARICOM's progress to giving the region's 33-year-old economic integration movement a human face, or making it what Prime Minister Owen Arthur speaks of as "a lived experience", is proving to be quite an enormous problem – intra-regional labour mobility.

It may well require involvement of our sporting and cultural icons – and, I dare say, also greater professional commitment by the region's media – in enabling the CARICOM political directorate to overcome some very difficult hurdles, including the burden of parochialism and, worse, xenophia, to complete by 2008 the infrastructure for the functioning, finally, of the envisaged common regional economy.

In other words, transforming what has for so many years been largely viewed as a mechanism for intra-regional trade and functional cooperation to a people-centred movement to sustain a seamless regional economy – even in the face of an apparent obsession by some about being "swamped by outsiders" (read that as "other" CARICOM nationals).

Deal effectively with cross-border crimes and monitor closely elements from outside national borders whose lifestyles add to serious local social problems, as well as those who exploit cheap migrant labour or traffick in persons for prostitution.

But let there be transparency in all that is done, and not misuse state institutions and agencies to engage in acts that hide deep-rooted insularity and/or social and ethnic prejudices that make a mockery of free movement of labour that's integral to the success of the emerging CSME.

In the words of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, who has been openly praised by his Community colleagues for his sterling contribution to help get the Development Fund off the floor-level:

"Free movement of labour has been and continues to be the bugbear in efforts at deepening the economic integration process . . . . We must shed our mental shackles on this important matter. It is mostly essential for the way forward . . . ."

As leaders of two countries whose economies stand to benefit the most from the CARICOM Development Fund, Prime Ministers Manning and Arthur themselves have much work to do in convincing, for a start, their respective immigration and customs officers about their own important roles in facilitating free movement of labour in the CSME experience.

© 1997-2005. Nation Publishing Company Limited.

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