He says that notwithstanding the vital importance of member states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), as well as Bahamas, Belize, Haiti, and Suriname, the 'Big Four' – founding members of CARICOM – must, in a coordinated way, “drive, pull or push the regional juggernaut”.
Sharing his vision for the way forward at the CARICOM summit in St. Kitts and Nevis, Prime Minister Gonsalves said that the region had to appreciate the combined and uneven development of the integration movement, which could be attributed to domestic considerations taking priority over optimal regional activity.
The region, he said, could no longer afford the luxury of “such relative non-engagement” and added that if such a situation existed among the four, it inexorably led to the diminution of engagement by others.
“It was perhaps inevitable that the change in government in Trinidad and Tobago in May 2010, would have resulted in a greater emphasis on domestic, rather than on regional, matters. I feel sure that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago which is populated by committed regionalists would again be at the fore in pushing the regional agenda on all fronts," he said.
“The simple truth is that on the large strategic concerns, the line between the 'national' and the 'regional' is blurred to the point of non-existence. Globalisation and the altered architecture of the international political economy have caused this to be so,” Dr. Gonsalves added.
Urging that facts be squarely faced, he said that no credible, sustainable regional solution to the challenges of CLICO and British-American Insurance Company (BAICO) was possible without the active involvement of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. The same holds, he said, for other issues including trade, regional governance, regional security, regional air and sea transportation, energy, health and education.
“The leadership of Trinidad and Tobago, and indeed of the `Big Four’, does not in any way mean a diminution of the importance on leadership of the other Member States of CARICOM. I simply make a salient point of practical politics in going forward,” he said.
Turning to the developments in the OECS, Prime Minister Gonsalves said that the grouping had a range of issues that were targeted for resolution within the framework of CARICOM, with priority being given to the reality that OECS member-states “do not benefit proportionately or at all from the single market arrangements in CARICOM”.
“Indeed, the CARICOM trading regime has contributed to the denudation of the manufacturing base in the OECS without necessarily benefiting the OECS consumer in terms of competitive price and quality," he said. "Further, the compensating mechanisms in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which are designed to assist the disadvantaged countries of the OECS, have been insufficiently rolled out."
Prime Minister Gonsalves added that CARICOM, in its trading and single market manifestations, is unlikely to survive unchallenged if it continues to be too highly skewed or unequally yoked in favour of one or two of the "Big Four".