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15 Caribbean Nations, One Market (Miami Herald)
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Posted by:Dec 1st 2004, 08:14:09 am
Fig Tree News TeamNovember 30, 2004 09:14
Caribbean Nations Approach Single-Market Milestone
An agreement on the shape and scope of a single market alone took years of behind-closed-doors hand-twisting. And even so, one member state - the Bahamas - chose to bow out.

With the entrepreneurial spirit of a Donald Trump - minus the comb-over and the ego - real estate manager and marketer Steven Brodber looks forward to the day he can travel from his native Jamaica to other Caribbean countries without a passport, visa or commerce-hindering restrictions.

That day is coming.

By December 2005, the Caribbean Community, a 15-member grouping of the region's mainly English-speaking nations, will establish a single market that will remove all restrictions on the free movement of goods, services, workers and capital.

In a splintered region this milepost has at times seemed unreachable. But the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, is closer than ever to its goal of one market, one economy, and maybe someday one political union.

When the CARICOM Single Market and Economy kicks in next year, only certain Caribbean citizens will be able to take advantage of unrestricted movement: university graduates, skilled laborers, artists and media professionals. But CARICOM leaders will consider extending eligibility to others.

Sixteen years in the making, the single market would be a monumental leap toward one passport for CARICOM nationals, a single currency and, perhaps the boldest step, the establishment of a political union.

"There is no good reason why countries in the region should not deepen the political cooperation among themselves," said Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, a nascent advocate for a political union.

"The cost of governance is slowly spiraling out of the reach of most Caribbean countries," Arthur said. "That has been the tremendous price that the region has had to pay for the attainment of national independence."

Such a move would be a tough sell. Caribbean nations, such as Jamaica, are proud and nationalistic and would not easily cede self-governance to a regional body.

An agreement on the shape and scope of a single market alone took years of behind-closed-doors hand-twisting. And even so, one member state - the Bahamas - chose to bow out.

To enter this accord, member states had to convince their respective governments, civic and business leaders and lawmakers to remove or rewrite trade and immigration laws that blocked the single market concept. So far, three countries are well on their way to being ready for the impending change, according to Arthur.

But is the region truly on track for a single market?

There are skeptics. Havelock Brewster, a Guyanese who is alternate executive director for the Caribbean at the Inter-American Development Bank, doubts the region is ready.

In a speech delivered in Washington, D.C., last year, Brewster said much more is needed to make it happen and questioned whether the proposed single market could work without a political union.

"Most of the CSME commitments are premised on the existence of higher degrees of political integration than currently exist," Brewster said.

Next month, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados will have completed the removal of all trade and immigration hurdles. By December 2005, the others are expected to be in compliance.

In all, 13 of CARICOM's 15 members - the Bahamas wants nothing to do with it and long-suffering Haiti didn't even make it out of the gate - will become one regional market, freely sharing talent, labor pool, and, it is hoped, curbing the brain drain to the United States and the United Kingdom.

"We have to do it," said Aubrey Armstrong, a management consultant from Guyana who lives in Barbados. "We have to educate our people as to its benefits and how it will affect them."

A former university professor and diplomat, Armstrong said the single market will strengthen Caribbean nations and give nationals alternatives to migrating to the United Kingdom and the United States for economic reasons.

"You have to explain the purposes, why in this world we need to do these things and why we can't stay alone," Armstrong said. "You have to paint a clear picture of what it will look like when it comes about."

CARICOM has begun to spread the word to the masses through volunteers, the Internet, and seminars targeted at civic and business groups. The message is this is a good thing for the region.

Still, with implementation a year away, the average person in the 13 participating Caribbean countries admits to knowing little about what's ahead and what impact the union would have on their lives.

CARICOM nations are at various stages of development, raising concern that under a single market individuals from poorer countries will head in droves to countries that are better off.

Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, with its abundant oil and natural gas, is doing better economically than nearby Guyana. And Jamaicans, such as Brodber, are looking to Trinidad for jobs and a better quality of life. Brodber is already taking steps to move to Trinidad.

Arthur said measures have been taken to help the countries with weaker economies. For instance, Trinidad announced the establishment of a fund to eradicate poverty in the region. The money would go to CARICOM countries with the greatest need.

Armstrong said the single market will give CARICOM nations a critical mass that will allow for development of the least wealthy among the island states.

"It's going to allow services and allow us to organize ourselves in new ways," Armstrong said. "As the movement is facilitated you will be able to make choices as to where your kids go to school."

Brodber, 37, who is from Kingston, sees plenty of benefits in the single market that he's anxious to reap. He's ready to establish a regional real estate network based in Trinidad. But without the single market he has to apply for work visas and jump through other hoops to stay in the country and establish a business. He said Trinidad's economy is far more robust than Jamaica's and ideally suited for his ambitions.

"I want to work not just in Trinidad but in the whole of the Caribbean," Brodber said during a visit to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago's capital city. "What I've wanted to do is have properties throughout the Caribbean. When you get a call the first thing the person asks is if there's anywhere else there is property in the Caribbean. Coming here I'm finding that the possibilities for real estate are so great. If the Caribbean comes together we can be that strong."

Michael A.W. Ottey, The Miami Herald

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