The Caribbean Community and the Commonwealth: collective responsibility in the 21st Century : Address by Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith
1The Caribbean Community and the Commonwealth: CollectiveResponsibility in the 21st Century15-18 February 2011, Kingston, JamaicaAddress by Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford SmithIt is a great pleasure to be here and to address the Opening Ceremony of thisimportant and timely conference on the Caribbean Community and theCommonwealth. It is especially appropriate that this should be at the University of the WestIndies – a quintessential Caribbean institution which, having had its genesis inrelations of empire, has embraced modernity, changing and adapting with thetimes so as to better serve the region.The Caribbean Community, if not the oldest, may be most advanced regionalintegration movement in the developing world. While this decades oldCommunity may have at times fallen short of its own goals this should notobscure the progress made over the years.It is instructive to recall, as Pascal Lamy did in a recent article on regionalintegration in Africa, that the Southern African Customs Union was establishedin the first decade of the last century, and the East African Community nine yearslater – that is in 1919. History may therefore be intimating that the regionaljourney can be a long and challenging one. Fortunately, there is reason to believethat through co-operation, engagement and enterprise, this journey will yieldsocial and economic gains far beyond the individual national investment ofresources and political will. It is for this reason that the CommonwealthSecretariat, which I represent here today, is a strong supporter of regionalintegration movements across the Commonwealth, and why we readily agreed,when approached, to support this important conference.This address is, like the conference, interestingly entitled the CaribbeanCommunity and the Commonwealth: Collective Responsibility in the 21st Century.
2I have Professor Sir Kenneth Hall to thank for choosing what is a challengingsubject. But it certainly has the virtue of concentrating the mind on what themodern Commonwealth is, what the Caribbean Community is and aspires to be,and how the two are related. Let me speak briefly to the modern Commonwealth. The modern Commonwealth dates back to 1949. This was the year of theLondon Declaration – under the terms of which it was agreed that the then newlyindependent and republican state – India – would remain in the Commonwealth.This laid the ground for new members adhering to differing constitutionalarrangements to join the association as they became independent.The admission of new members was to be a frequent occurrence as thedecolonization process gathered momentum in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and thePacific. With Rwanda’s admission in 2009, membership of the Commonwealth isnow fifty-four countries, constituting one third of humanity, almost 2 billionpeople, and a quarter of all nations. Twelve of the fifteen independent membersof the Caribbean Community are members of the Commonwealth, the exceptionbeing Suriname and Haiti. The Commonwealth Caribbean, as is its way in the international arena,punches above its weight in the Commonwealth.The region provided arguably the best known and certainly the longest servingSecretary-General, Sir Shridath Ramphal. This region also famously providedwithin the Commonwealth the persistent agitation, the resolve and the leadershipthat contributed to the dismantling of apartheid and to the termination ofcolonialism in Southern Africa. This history points to a vital convergencebetween the modern Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Caribbean. It is aconvergence of values. The Commonwealth is committed to fundamental valuesthat include observance of the rule of law, democratic processes, independence ofthe judiciary, protection and promotion of fundamental human rights, and theprovision of equality of opportunity.These and other shared values were reiterated in the “Affirmation ofCommonwealth Values and Principles” adopted at the Heads of GovernmentMeeting, in Port of Spain, in November 2009. It is certainly not my intention tosuggest or imply that principle and reality are always one and the same. Withinthe Commonwealth, as without, the journey from principle to platitude can beshort and swift. The Commonwealth’s Harare Declaration of 1991 is, forexample, ironically a seminal document on adherence to the principles of goodgovernance. But derogations along the way notwithstanding, a shared history,common aspirations, and similar institutions and practices, anchor and inform animportant body of democratic values that are a beacon for the peoples of theCommonwealth, and for people everywhere. This is the riposte to the wellintentioned query – what is the relevance of the Commonwealth today? To rely
3on Joseph Nye’s oft quoted phrase, it is the fact of its “soft power”. This is animportant contribution to national, regional and global good that can be easilyunderestimated. In this regard, I recall a speech by the Secretary-General of theOrganisation of American States, H.E. Jose Miguel Insulza, to the CommonwealthBusiness Forum in Port of Spain two years ago. His subject was theCommonwealth and the Americas, and Secretary-General Insulza had this to say:“Major changes in the OAS began in the 1960s when first Trinidad and Tobagoin 1967,followed by the other eleven Commonwealth Caribbean independent states andCanada joined the organisation. Their advent altered the culture of the OAS in adecisive and positive way. These new members brought the Commonwealth’sentrenched tradition of parliamentary democracy, strong rule of law, respect forcivil and human rights, and confidence in their institutions, which have bolsteredthe OAS and have reinforced its pillars of democracy, human rights, integraldevelopment, and multidimensional security. We are now experiencing a processof democratic consolidation in the Americas….”It would be naive to suggest that the demonstration effect is all that is needed.Suffice it to say though that this is a very important ingredient as borne out by thecascading clamour for democratic change that we have seen across contiguousregions of the globe in recent times.Let me hasten to emphasise that pragmatism and preparedness to act also informthe Commonwealth outlook. This is reflected in the association’s institutionalframework. An important mechanism, the Commonwealth Ministerial ActionGroup (CMAG) is probably the only instrument of its kind outside of the UnitedNations Security Council.This is a group of nine Foreign Ministers with the power to suspend and even torecommend the expulsion of a member or members for serious or persistentviolation of Commonwealth values. This has been done on a number of occasionsin the past, most recently in the case of Fiji, suspended in 2006 following themilitary coup in that country.A current priority goal of the Commonwealth is strengthening CMAG to make itmore effective, and recommendations to this end are expected to be made to thenext Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, later this year. Jamaicafrom this region, and Trinidad and Tobago, as Chair-in-office, are currentmembers of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).Let me note though that in upholding its values, the way of the Commonwealthlies first and foremost in support and encouragement, such as through the use ofgood offices, the deputising of eminent persons, and the provision of assistance tobring about adherence to good governance and democratic practices. While the
4Commonwealth Secretary-General has deployed his good offices in this region inthe past, it may be of interest to note that the Caribbean is the only developingregion in the Commonwealth where stronger measures have not been taken indefence of Commonwealth fundamental values.This points to the generally recognised strength of Commonwealth values in theCaribbean. This is a strength of which, shortcomings notwithstanding, the regioncan be proud. The Commonwealth Secretariat has been active in recent years inproviding assistance to the Caribbean in areas such as gender mainstreaming,human rights training for the police; encouraging adherence to human rightsinstruments and meeting reporting obligations; strengthening the criminal justicesystem through training and promoting inter-regional cooperation and exchanges;providing legislative drafting assistance and training; and support to democraticprocesses through a Commonwealth flagship activity -– election observation inthis and other regions. In this latter regard, with the active participation of thisregion, a pan-Commonwealth Network of National Election Management Bodieshas been established recently to promote peer learning, peer support and exchange.Development is a core value of the Commonwealth. In Port of Spain, Heads ofGovernment affirmed that economic and social progress enhances thesustainability of democracy. While the Caribbean has made significant progressover the years, especially in human development, there is growing concern thatthe region is performing below its social and economic potential. It may not be anexaggeration to say that the Commonwealth Caribbean is in danger of becoming interms of comparative growth a “problem child” of the global community. Majorrecent studies have pointed in this direction. The World Bank’s mid-decade study“A Time to Choose: Caribbean Development in the 21st Century” while findingsignificant improvements in human development found, as well, lagging tradeperformance, and a secular decline in growth rates as compared to otherdeveloping regions. The recent end of decade joint report by the World Bank andthe OAS found weak competitiveness and a long run growth performance thatdoes not compare favourably with the best performing countries in Africa. Morerecently, in the 2009-2010 global competitiveness report only Barbados out-performed the Latin American average in terms of competitiveness and otherCaribbean countries evaluated placed in the bottom half of the globalcompetitiveness index.One might ask - is the region strong in values and weak on growth? Earlier Ispoke to a convergence of Commonwealth and Caribbean views on the question ofvalues. Integral to these are support for democratic institutions, good governance,and development. Societies must not only provide the wherewithal to meet basichuman needs but must also provide security, access to justice, and an enablingenvironment conducive to progressive communities and productive lives.
5This leads me to two inter-related Commonwealth concerns – firstly, thesituation, one might say, the plight, of small states in the global economy and,secondly, the importance of integration movements.The Commonwealth is home to 32 small states, and twenty-five of these are smallisland states.As a consequence, the Commonwealth has always placed great importance onadvocacy for small states. It is cause for concern that research findings repeatedlyshow small states - and least developed countries - as lagging behind in growthperformance. The Caribbean collectively accounts for almost a third of this “atrisk” grouping. Two important Commonwealth studies in the last decade, both incollaboration with the World Bank, have identified the challenges andopportunities small states face.The challenges include being prone to natural disasters, the erosion ofpreferences, limited institutional capacity, and migration of skills – to which wemust now add the impact of climate change, heavy burden of debt, and secular lowgrowth in major export markets. There are few commentators who do notpropose regional cooperation as a path to take in response to these challenges.Against this background, the Commonwealth Secretariat is fully committed toworking with regional organisations and regional institutions to achieve theirgoals. By way of illustration: we have recently launched the CommonwealthPacific Governance Facility; we continue to deliver trade capacity support toregional organisations in the Caribbean, the Pacific and Africa; we provide debtmanagement support to regional and sub-regional organisations across theCommonwealth; we provide regionally based training in legal drafting and inhuman rights as indicated earlier. We deploy experts on climate change toregional institutions and assist small states, in particular, in maritime delimitation.Our work on strengthening the public service also has a strong regionaldimension. We convene regular regional meetings of Commonwealth Heads ofPublic Service and Cabinet Secretaries, and more recently, regional caucuses ofMinisters of the Public Service. We take this approach because we fully recognisethat increasingly the boundaries between national and regional challenges are non-existent or blurred, and regional approaches and responses are imperative.What are the overarching challenges, and the opportunities, of regional integrationas we see it? The opportunities are known – economies of scale; shared costs byoperating common services; pooling of negotiating power in interface with thewider global community – an area of some success, especially in trade; and,broadly, deriving synergies from combining human, financial, institutional andpolitical resources.
6I will now cite three important overarching challenges. The first of these is theimportance of citizen engagement – ensuring that regional movements become‘flatter’. Regional arrangements, by their very logic, move decision-making andimplementation up the ladder, and a rung further away from the citizen. This canimpair accountability, may run counter to subsidiarity, and risks distancingdecision-making and implementation from those they are intended to ultimatelyserve. This can be addressed by actively promoting transparency, engagement andaccountability at both national and regional levels and by providing space forinterface by civil society, the private sector, and the ordinary citizen, with regionalinstitutions and processes. It can also be addressed by extending certain rightsthat citizens enjoy at the national level to the regional level – such as access toinformation. Instruments and mechanisms like the Assembly of CommunityParliamentarians, the Charter of Civil Society, the media, and institutions oflearning, such as this one, have a vital role to play in this regard.Another key issue that faces regional organisations is the sovereignty question.To be effective, regional organisations need consistent mandates, strong policiesand predictable financial support from their member states. They also require aclear determination of the extent to which sovereignty will be devolved to thecollective by constituent members. These are issues that are cogently and wellexplored in the book entitled Caricom: Policy Options for InternationalEngagement launched in London last week by the UWI-Caricom Project, andwith which the Commonwealth is pleased to be associated.A third overarching and critical issue is the balance to be struck between inwardand outward focus. For the purpose of these comments, this is primarily related tothe trade and economic aspect of the integration movement. In the case ofCaricom, as with other regional movements, there is no easy answer. But it issuggested that the leap that may be required is to view the regional integrationmovement both as a platform from which to engage with the global community,and as a vehicle for inserting national and regional enterprises into hemisphericand global production and output. In much the same way that the fact of small sizeshould compel foreign policy coordination, the fact of small size and markets mayalso compel this strategic path to economic growth and development. In thiscontext extra-regional engagement may be seen not as a threat to, but as anintegral part of, creating a stronger and more effective regional movement.Some years ago the World Bank noted that there is a strong co-relation betweenhigh levels of extra-regional trade and high levels of intra-regional trade. Thepoint was that the best performing integration schemes were those engaged inremoving barriers to third countries at the same time as they proceeded withremoving barriers amongst themselves. In Europe currently, intra-regional tradeis 60%, in NAFTA 40%, in ASEAN more than 30%, in Africa and theCaribbean, between 10 and 20%, with the Caribbean at the low end of this range.
7In this vein, I might recall that the United Nations Conference on Trade andDevelopment in its Trade and Development Report drew attention some years agoto the strong trade expansion in Asia and its link to the rise of regional productionnetworks. A strategic objective of engagement for the Community might possiblybe its insertion into the merchandise value chain to take advantage of what theUnited Nations Industrial Development Organisation was among the first todescribe as “trade in tasks”, a segment of global trade that is growing very rapidly,both as a component of North/South and South/South trade.In stating this, I am aware that the Caribbean economies are mostly services-based. Fortunately there is a synergy that can be taken advantage of, for theintegration of countries into the global services economy as well as their insertioninto the merchandise value chain can be driven by the same policy set. Thisincludes appropriate regulatory frameworks, a focus on education and skillsdevelopment, efficient border processes, and the provision of reliableinfrastructure, especially communication facilities to take advantage ofe-commerce and the revolution in information and communications technology.Let me elaborate briefly on this last point. A number of studies, the previouslyreferred to World Bank/OAS study, earlier IADB/INTAL studies, as well as theSingle Development Vision have pointed to the importance of infrastructuralregional public goods to the development and transformation of the Community.The African Development Bank has emphasized that Africa needs to integrate tobuild common infrastructure. It can be argued that the Caribbean needs to buildcommon infrastructure to integrate. In addition to infrastructural regional goods,the regional services that are essential to economic intercourse, such as regulatoryand quality control bodies, are another area of priority. A third building block isthe collective management of the regional commons, which Brewster hasidentified as the sea, airspace, weather, disease, pest infestation, and the like. Anda fourth is security cooperation. It is to the region’s credit that progress is indeedbeing made in some of these areas. Taken collectively, they are key elements for aCaribbean Community that can walk confidently on two legs – stronger withinand more engaged without.Finally, let me say that the challenges facing small states such as those in theCaribbean are well documented. The region’s achievements in political,economic, social and cultural terms have been noteworthy but new hurdles mustnow be cleared. This requires heightened cooperation. Among the mostchallenging for the region are the debt burden that currently constricts fiscal spaceand limits social expenditure, the high level of migration that depletes skills, andthe growing regional security problem, fuelled by the drug trade and theCaribbean’s strategic location as a transhipment point. It is an ironic aside toobserve that those engaged in illicit activities may be proving more adept at takingadvantage of the region’s strategic location than legitimate business.
8Regrettably as well, on the question of depletion of skills, the Caribbean is a globalleader in the migration of its tertiary graduates. Remittances notwithstanding, thishas profound implications for economies that individually and collectively willonly be able to compete in the new global environment through knowledge-basedand value added endeavours.Fortunately, regional integration offers a viable means of harnessing anew theproductive and creative energies of the Caribbean people in response to thetectonic shifts that are taking place in the global economy. Many of the challengesfacing the region can and must of necessity be addressed in concert with others,within and outside the region. The Commonwealth with its diverse compositionand a recognised tradition of advocacy on behalf of small states is well suited forthis role. The peoples of the Caribbean are embarked on a journey to buildsocieties that, though small, are democratic, open, accountable and beneficiallyintegrated into the global economy.The region’s destiny may well be the task of demonstrating to the globalcommunity that this journey is not at all ill-conceived.