The following is a presentation by Ambassador Irwin LaRocque at the Forum on the Future of the Caribbean, held at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, on May 6, 2015.
It is indeed a pleasure for me personally, as well as the Caricom Secretariat, to be associated with this “one of a kind” event. This “Forum on The Future of the Caribbean” could not be more timely and relevant, given the challenging regional and international circumstances.
I am particularly heartened by the range of participants involved during these three days. I look forward to the practical outcomes and policy directions to be derived from this exercise in ‘disruptive thinking’ which I am sure will stimulate ideas and debate.
This forum owes its genesis to the vision of Winston Dookeran, minister of foreign affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, himself a disruptive thinker. Minister, this demonstrates your commitment to the development of our region. I trust that we would all be satisfied at the end of these proceedings tomorrow that this event would have achieved the desired results.
There is no doubt that serious fore-sighting and visioning need to be undertaken about the future of our region. In so doing, we must be prepared to open our minds to new ideas, and to thinking differently. Allowing ourselves to be shaken out of our conventional thinking modes and approaches is an essential prerequisite in our quest for the future development of the region.
To prompt such thinking, there can be no better partner than the University of the West Indies (UWI). The history of UWI’s involvement in regional integration and development allows this Forum to benefit from its unique perspective. It is within those walls in the 1960s and 70s that the revived integration movement received its intellectual foundation.
It was from there as well that ideas were discussed on the model of economic integration for our region, as we struggled at a critical juncture of our search for unity. And now today, at another moment of decision on the future of our region, UWI is again playing its part.
Ours is a community that has always had an eye on the future. Caribbean integration has never been static. Transition from free trade through CARIFTA, to a common market, to a single market and eventually into a single economy, gives evidence of that fact. In truth, the depth and width of our integration has always gone beyond economics. The human and social dimension preceded economics and trade and remains a most vigorous element in the integration of our community. That integration also is grounded in foreign policy co-ordination and security co-operation.
And now, again, we are engaged in a reform process to ensure that the community is well prepared for the future.
But what is that future? This forum is most timely in attempting to give us different perspectives from a variety of stakeholders as to what that future holds.
On the part of the community, recognising that form follows function, we have prepared a Community Strategic Plan for the period 2015-2019. This is the first of its kind and involved consultations in member states with a wide cross-section of stakeholders including the political opposition, the private sector, labour, youth and civil society in general.
The question is, what kind of institutional arrangements do we need to carry us forward? We have embarked on reforming the Caricom Secretariat and reviewing our integration architecture to enable us to better respond to the demands of now and the future.
In that context, we also see the need to further revise the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The Treaty, which is the foundation instrument that determines our formal relationship, has taken us thus far. We have recognised its limitations and are taking steps to enhance it.
There are difficult questions which we must reflect upon as we go forward.
How do we deepen our integration to give effect to the single economy and to strengthen foreign policy co-ordination?
What impact would widening have on our ambitions of achieving a single economy and on foreign policy co-ordination?
How do we simultaneously achieve wider Caribbean Sea convergence while deepening our integration?
Given that we are a community of sovereign states, what are the most appropriate governance arrangements which we must put in place in order for us to realise our full potential as a community?
Should sanctions be introduced as a means of enforcing compliance with Treaty provisions and decisions?
As is expected, despite our introspection, current events on the global scene will have an influence on developments in our region. During this year, several critical international events will have an impact on the future course of developing countries as well as the future of the planet. These include the Third International Conference for Financing for Development in July; the UN Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in September; and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December.
All of these processes will have a significant policy and agenda-shaping impact on the nature of international development priorities and relations. They will also influence the forms and sources of assistance and resources available.
Our vulnerabilities have been ruthlessly exposed by the various crises that have plagued the world since the first decade of this century. The food crisis, the energy crisis, the financial and economic crisis, and pandemics, have all affected us adversely in differing degrees. Indeed the effects of the 2008-2009 financial and economic crisis are still resonating in our region. Further we are faced with the existential threat posed by the effects of climate change.
None of those crises, nor indeed the causes of climate change, emanated from within our shores or are due to our actions. The question is: How can we develop our societies and economies to withstand the effects of these exogenous shocks? They have become a permanent feature of our existence as small states with open, vulnerable economies and which are prone to natural disasters.
Another backdrop against which this forum is taking place is the dynamism and increasing complexity of the hemispheric and international environment. This includes the shifts in the global centres of power economically and politically.
The inward gaze and the economic difficulties of the developed world in the face of the crises, have diminished even further an already shrinking pool of development finance.
Many of our member states’ access to much needed development finance is lessened due to being classified as middle income.
The use of GDP as a primary criterion for determining such access does not take into account the vulnerabilities which we constantly face.
Many Caribbean economies find themselves in a situation of paradox, with low growth, high debt, fiscal deficits, and low domestic private sector investments which coexist with a financial sector replete with resources.
How can this paradox be brought to an end?
Are there not sufficient investment opportunities in the region?
Is there need to review the regional ‘doing business environment’?
Or is there an epidemic of risk aversion within both the financial sector and our entrepreneurs?
Failure to invest in our own future could be interpreted as a lack of confidence with the consequent effect on foreign investment.
Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot consider our future without taking into account the transformative role of innovation and technological change. In all spheres of life, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is making a profound difference. Its influence stretches through all sectors and must be a key factor in driving the development of our human resources and in increasing our competitiveness.
Innovation, creativity, digital literacy, entrepreneurial attitudes and skills are constantly being proven as platforms for growth and development. Caricom has recognised these realities in its Strategic Plan.
And most certainly the voice of youth must be brought to the table. We have a duty to consider the views and ideas from a group that comprises 60 per cent of the population. A forum such as this is in essence discussing what kind of Caribbean our youth will inhabit.
Their clamour for an integrated region has been a constant theme during my interactions with them. The region, they say, is their home.
It is where they want to live, work and, crucially, be involved in the planning and building of the future.
Before closing I must extend thanks to Minister Winston Dookeran and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago along with the United Nations Development Programme and UWI for making this forum possible. I also express appreciation to the Government of Mexico and the Andean Foundation and other organisations for their support.
It is my understanding that many thought-provoking papers were presented during the session at the St Augustine Campus yesterday. I look forward to today and tomorrow demonstrating quite clearly that the Caribbean’s proud tradition of intellectual prowess is very much alive and can provide innovative and practical ideas towards the sustainable development of our Region. In putting forward such ideas, we must take into account the baseline reality in the Region if we are to bring to fruition the plans and polices which flow from such ideas. This must be the thrust of our deliberations.
I thank you
Ambassador Irwin LaRocque is the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
Credit: Jamaica Observer