Our Readers' Opinions
August 21, 2009
SVG’s ALBA ties a good move


Editor: The decision of Dominica, Antigua and St. Vincent to join The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) has drawn the ire of some CARICOM leaders, notably Bruce Golding of Jamaica.{{more}}

In June 2009, the Jamaican Prime Minister said he would seek to address the future of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), given the effects of ALBA and Trinidad and Tobago’s proposed political union with the OECS. He cited that they are the two main elements that will have a “destabilizing effect” on the Caribbean Community.

Bruce Golding noted that “many leaders are frustrated by the slow pace of regional integration, but taking on new international commitments will only make it more difficult”. He stated that “When you start to create other alliances, you assume other responsibilities and obligations, which may very well cut across the obligations you have at home”.

The Grenadian Prime Minister Tillman Thomas said Grenada would not join ALBA because it would create the false impression of problems inside CARICOM.

Inevitably, both domestic and international factors have conditioned this country’s decision to join ALBA. The global recession has exposed the frailty of this country’s economy and possibly that of regional multilateralism. Are such frailties a justification for seeking membership in alternative economic arrangements, which can possibly weaken the CARICOM integration effort?

The limited size, population and economy of the CARICOM region render limited economic benefits to be derived by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) from participating in CARICOM, the only visible practical benefit being the ability of certain categories of workers to ply their service in the more developed countries of the regional grouping.

CARICOM itself has no structural fund mechanism, unlike the European Union, which gives financial support to underdeveloped and economically weak EU regions. In Europe, Spain, Portugal and Greece were the recipient of more than $50 billion in such development assistance upon accession to their economic union, enabling them to achieve developed nation status in the 1990’s. That similar largesse will be bestowed on the new member states of Eastern Europe, Malta and Cyprus.

At present, it is only Trinidad and Tobago that is in any financial position to and have the wherewithal to come to the rescue of individual member states of the CARICOM region. However, it will be economically strained to shoulder the burden for the entire grouping.

Membership of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States in CARICOM appears to be more symbolic rather than practical. If practicality is to prevail, then it is to the disadvantage of the OECS , who have served as a repository for the export of sugar, rice, lumber, process food and services from the more developed members of the economic grouping.

According to information from the Statistics Department, imports from the CARICOM region to this country amounted to EC $275,543,883 in 2008, while exports were EC$86,075,094. Total imports in general stand at approximately EC $1.008 billion, and exports at EC $140,955,221.

The governments of the OECS must shoulder some of the blame in not repositioning the economies of these islands to become more competitive in the CARICOM Single Market and the Economy (CSME). Upon their accession to CARICOM in 1974, the OECS was designated as less developed member states and they have remained so to this day.

On the other hand, ALBA does offer practical benefits to this country. These include the ALBA oil agreement which is modeled on that of PetroCaribe, access to capital to fund projects through the Bank of ALBA, cultural exchange through sports under the ALBA Cultural and Sports Initiative and ALBA Peoples Trade Agreement, which seeks to locate areas of need within each participating state, then match these areas of need with goods and services available in partnering member states.

The duality of the present strategic decision of the government is logical and of such – membership in ALBA will enable this country to maximize any economic

benefit to be had by being a participant, while at the same time membership in CARICOM will not compromise its effort at regional integration.

Irrespective of any rationality or multilateralism, countries will have individual and competing interests and our present economic predicament in the region should serve to reinforce in us that ‘we are masters of our own destiny but not our own faith’.

Nilio Gumbs