Wed | Aug 10, 2022

Editorial | Ratify multi-track CARICOM

Published:Wednesday | June 29, 2022 | 12:08 AM

Among the potentially most consequential decisions by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders in recent times was their agreement in March to amend the community’s operating treaty to allow it to proceed on multiple tracks. Or, enhanced cooperation among members, as the matter is framed in the protocol setting out the arrangements.

The critical term here, however, is ‘potential’. For what CARICOM has now is an agreed text that is signed by only one-third of the relevant contracting parties. No instrument of ratification is yet lodged with the community’s secretariat in Guyana. And there is a profound difference, as CARICOM knows well, between agreeing to something and actually implementing it.

Jamaica is among the countries that have neither signed nor ratified the agreement. And our Government said nothing about it publicly. Neither has the administration, despite the urgings of this newspaper, discussed the broader Persaud Commission on how to kick-start the region’s economy, which resurrected the idea of a multi-track CARICOM. That report has been public for 20 months.

Neither has the Government tabled the report in Parliament and have it forwarded to the appropriate standing committee of the House for public hearings, which is both surprising and profoundly disappointing, in view of Prime Minister Andrew Holness having, in 2016, established the Golding Task Force, chaired by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, to review Jamaica’s place in CARICOM. While the Government has not acted on the task force’s recommendations, Prime Minister Holness had made it clear that Jamaica intended to be an active player in the community and extract due economic benefits therefrom.

Which, in part, is why we hold the proposed amendment to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to be significant – and important. For as is notoriously known to be the case, and reiterated by Mr Golding’s task force, the bane of CARICOM is what critics call its implementation deficit. Leaders take decisions at summits, then fail to fulfil them, especially when faced with political and economic pushback at home.

Domestic constraints are exacerbated by how CARICOM does its business. Its big decisions, those by heads of governments at summits, are on the basis of unanimity. And if something is agreed, implementation must be by all parties at the same time.

The Persaud Commission, chaired by the Barbadian economist Avinash Persaud, proposed breaking these logjams by creating a multi-speed community – or the creation of a coalition of the willing, underlaid by the principle of subsidiary. Undertakings that are best done at the domestic level should be left to local authorities, rather than gummed up by higher bureaucracies.

The resulting agreement will, in practice, allow a minimum four CARICOM members who are ready to move a project that has community approval to do so, allowing the laggards to catch up later on.

To proceed, however, the early movers will need the agreement of at least two-thirds of all members, a requirement this newspaper believes to be unduly restrictive, given that the action places no obligations on non-participating states, whose right of future participation, on the same terms, is preserved.

NO REASON FOR DELAY

This idea of a multi-speed approach to implementation is not new to CARICOM. Indeed, as the preamble to the protocol notes, this suggestion, or proposals akin to it, were endorsed by heads of government at least four summits between 2003 and 2018. What, however, is new is that amendments to the treaty were actually drafted and agreed to at the summit in Belize in March, and four member states – Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Grenada – actually signed the protocol. The document will again be opened for signing in the next regional summit in Belize in July, although we suspect that any leader for whom it is urgent can, and could have done so, at any time.

The more difficult part, though, is ratifying the agreement to make it part of domestic law. Indeed, states are notorious for signing agreements then allowing the ratification process to linger. That, hopefully, does not happen in this case, especially with all the complaints about the laggards who gum up CARICOM’s works. And this arrangement only comes into force after it has been ratified by all the parties.

Jamaica, in this regard, has no reason for delay. For while it may have strained relations with some CARICOM members over foreign policy issues, that ought not to impinge on its economic interests – not if Prime Minister Holness’ 2016 declaration that Jamaica was back in CARICOM still holds true.