At their annual meeting last month, the Caricom heads of state struggled to make headway on trade and immigration restrictions, although one issue which was met with unanimity was climate change.

The logic of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) is impeccable. As well known as the Caribbean countries are in cultural terms - beaches, food, music - they are fairly insignificant in global economic terms. Even adding them all together, their populations, trade and output make up less than 1% of the world totals.

Growing out of the Caribbean Free Trade Association, Caricom was established by the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973. In 1989, the decision to launch the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) was taken.

But, as with all single markets, the CSME is easy to discuss and harder to implement. Stories abound of goods running into trade barriers, a recent and colourful example of which was a battle over Jamaican patties being blocked by Trinidad and Tobago. And when it comes to the movement of people, matters become even more contentious. Then the stories are of Caricom nationals being awakened in their beds by over-zealous immigration officers and sent home.

Against this backdrop and amid fears that with the development of sub-regional groupings the very existence of Caricom was in danger, the Caribbean heads of state met for their 30th annual meeting in Georgetown, Guyana, in July. Migration, climate change, the financial crisis and integration were the key issues. To commemorate the meeting, The Banker has produced a ranking of the region's Top 25 banks.

Jamaica's prime minister, Bruce Golding, who had raised concerns about the fissures in the grouping, told journalists at the meeting: "Jamaican exporters often say that 'they cannot be bothered with Caricom' because 'it is too much trouble'. It is absurd and ironic that at the moment it is easier to sell Caricom goods in Europe than to the rest of Caricom. We need to have common [trade] standards for the whole of Caricom."

But if trade issues cause some frictions, movement of people causes a lot more. At the opening ceremony, a number of heads of state referred to this in their speeches but from different sides of the argument. As might be expected, the challenges to free movement of people came from the richer states such as Antigua and Barbados, which are on the receiving end of immigration flows.

Baldwin Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said: "Antigua and Barbuda has been practicing a very liberal immigration policy for a number of years. However, this open and liberal immigration policy cannot be sustained amid the growing threats posed by cross-border criminal activity and the challenges of the global financial crisis. Continuing this liberal immigration arrangement is counterproductive to my government's policy of providing the greatest good for the greatest number of our citizens and residents."

The counter-argument came from the president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, whose citizens are often the migrants in question. He said: "The average Caribbean traveller will assess the integration movement based on the ease with which he can travel from one member state to another within our single space. If he sees himself as encountering more hurdles in traversing this space than the visitor from overseas, his faith in integration is shaken, sometimes permanently. As I have said publicly, our countries have a sovereign right to determine our own immigration policies. However, maltreatment of Caricom citizens is repugnant to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and to human decency, and must be deplored. If we treat our own people badly, how can we then expect third countries to receive them with respect?"

Caricom Full Members

Caricom Full Members

Common ground

Climate change is now occupying all the heads of state as they realise the impact it can have on tropical islands through floods and hurricanes. Tillman Thomas, prime minister of Grenada, said: "Two-thousand and nine is a particularly important year for climate change as the international negotiations are scheduled to culminate in a new intergovernmental regime to address causes and impacts of climate change. This new regime would be important for small states such as Caribbean Community member states, as the decisions taken on emission reductions will directly influence the amount of damage to the environment and other problems caused by climate change. The region needs to face the challenge head on."

The final communiqué established a task force to consider the region's response to the financial crisis, reaffirmed the goal of free movement of people but recognised that full implementation would be challenging and listed the region's priorities on climate change among other initiatives.

Top 25 Caricom Banks

Top 25 Caricom Banks


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