By Basil Springer

“Out of disaster came a blessing” – .

When sometimes situations seem out of control, our reaction should not be one of panic, but rather we should focus on the over-ruling power of God. Last Tuesday night I was billed as guest speaker at the weekly meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Barbados South on the topic Caribbean Single Market and Economy. Mr. Ivor Carryl, who is leading the charge on the CSME from the Caricom Secretariat’s office in Barbados, was originally invited to be the guest speaker. He also turned up. The organizers had not received a confirmation from Ivor’s office and hence they invited me several weeks’ ago. Two guest speakers on one evening – what an embarrassment to the organizers! However, they did not panic but were inspired with the brilliant idea of a panel discussion with both guests as panelists. Kiwani Andrew Sealy did an excellent job of moderating the discussion getting the right balance between the panelists’ inputs and responses and the contributions from the floor. A dynamic interactive session ensued to the obvious satisfaction of the audience, to the extent that the mover of the vote of thanks began his remarks with the comment ‘out of disaster came a blessing’.

The blessing was that the members of the audience, instead of receiving an address from one guest speaker, were able garner information from and respond to public and private sector perspectives on the vision and implementation of CSME. Ivor articulated the laudable Vision of CSME which was complemented by my appeal for Action. There was neither disagreement on the vision nor on the purpose which, of course, is to engender sustainable socio-economic well-being for the people of the Caribbean. However, it was felt that we were woefully behind in terms of the Action to make it happen.
Vision without action is fantasy – a mere day dream. Action without vision is mere folly – indeed a nightmare. The vision is in place, we must now put our shoulders to the plough and design and implement a comprehensive action plan.

It was recognized that the necessary legal framework and justice system had been established through a Treaty and the Caribbean Court of Justice, respectively. However, whereas the ‘single market’ seemed to be a realistic objective, the ‘single economy’ was not and hence had to remain a dream at this stage because of a number of inhibiting factors. These inhibiting factors include (1) 14 sovereign nations which are unlikely to give up sovereignty to become a unified state or federation; (2) no regional parliament as in the EU; (3) the purchasing power parity of the eight currencies in the Caricom region is not in equilibrium; (4) countries separated by water and hence not in a contiguous land mass; (5) no common passport; (6) no regional strategic plan; and (7) no regional social partner governance system.

The focus should therefore be on an Action Plan for the development of the Caribbean Single Market, in the first instance, based on freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, establishments and limited categories of labour. This is indeed already evolving.

It was recognized that the signing of a document by Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago on January 01 2005 would not of itself make a difference to the everyday life of a Caribbean resident. At best it should signal the need for individuals to recommit themselves to the CSM and promote mind-set, skill-set and cross-cultural communication changes. The jingles that we hear on the broadcast media daily, I find attractive, but they merely articulate the vision. As recognized in the live broadcast of the Barbados Senate debate last week, this must be accompanied by an education process which will sensitise leaders and inspire change towards expansion of the economy and sustainable development. It must be recognized that increased competitiveness in the global economy must be preceded by entrepreneurial passion, a user friendly enabling environment, enhanced productivity and service excellence.

Trading among ourselves in an expanded Caribbean market is a laudable objective. But, alas, it is not enough if we are going to increase our growth rate significantly. We must ‘leap-frog’ the expansion of the economy. This can only be done by providing services to an expanded global market. Individual countries should wriggle their way through the legs of economic giants in search of niche markets compatible with their potential to supply. They can also pursue food and renewable energy security policies which will also save foreign exchange. In the CSM context countries can combine their supply to satisfy this demand (e.g. Windies cricket and, potentially, W.I. sea island cotton through Exclusive Cottons of the Caribbean Inc.) or they can work together to sensitise the market to the services available in the region (e.g. the experience of Caribbean Tourism Organization).

We need change leaders at every node of the regional system who will: be guided by policies for the future; engage in systematic methods to look for, and anticipate change; find the right way to introduce change, both within and outside the organization; and adopt policies to balance change and continuity.
In closing, may I wish you God’s blessing over the Yuletide season.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) -