By the time the Caribbean Community got down to work on giving practical effect to its stated purpose of fulfilling “within the shortest possible time the hopes and aspirations of the Caribbean Territories…” by means of Economic Integration, forces were gathering which would challenge its very existence. Indeed, the birth of the Caribbean Community coincided with the unleashing of events which would plunge the World into its most profound economic crisis since the 1930s. For it was in 1973 that the third Arab/Israel War took place. Subsequent to this conflict the oil producing Arab States, in defence of their national interests, substantially increased the price of oil. The impact on the World economy was soon felt. Developing States, especially those in the Caribbean, suffered a body blow to their hopes and aspirations for rapid economic development.
The Georgetown Accord declared its high hopes for the Caribbean people: their hopes would be achieved in the shortest possible period; commitment was expressed to “ever-widening programmes of Functional Co-operation”; and ‘closer economic integration’ was seen as the engine ‘of a viable economic Community of the Commonwealth Caribbean Countries’. Steps to the creation of a viable Community were set out in concrete terms at the Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean Countries in April 1973.
But by 1975 a dissonant note could be detected. The Community was now faced with “the adverse effects of continuing inflation.” Food self-sufficiency asserted itself as the Region’s food bill increased as a result of the economic crisis. A seven-year hiatus was to prevent the Community from treating with this crisis which had raised its head by 1975.
When Meetings of the Heads of Government resumed in 1982 in Ocho Rios Jamaica, the Leaders of the Community could not disguise the fact that they were dealing with a full-blown economic crisis which was testing the foundation of the Community itself. The severity of the situation provoked bluntness: “…Heads of Government expressed deep concern over the current World economic crisis which is reminiscent of the era of the depressed conditions of the 1930s.” Special consideration was given to the condition of the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) in these circumstances. Yet hope was not diminished at this first Meeting since 1975, and in the face of a severe economic crisis, the Leaders of the Community asseverated:
“The Heads of Government reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining and strengthening the Caribbean Community and to the deepening of the integration process. They reiterated their conviction that the Community is a symbol of hope and a practical mechanism for the improvement of the quality of life of all their peoples.”
The Summit Meetings of 1982 and 1983 sought to take decisions which would remove impediments to the economic development of the Community. In this sense they can be said to clear the ground for the Communiqué issued by the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in 1984. It is an outstanding and comprehensive analysis of the economic ills of the Caribbean Community, which is at the same time a prescription for them. It addressed the need for structural adjustment and honed in on the critical issue of debt. It was at this juncture too that the Caribbean sought to revitalise intra-regional trade on a sustained basis and to tackle the question of energy – a vastly important matter for Member States, the majority of which had to confront staggering bills for petroleum and related products.
By 1986, the cloud of economic recession began to lift from over the Caribbean Community. The Heads could report “…modest signs of recovery in most OECS countries” and confirmed that the Structural Adjustment Programmes undertaken by Member States had created “the conditions for an immediate and substantially enlarged flow of external financing from both official and private sources at levels and on terms appropriate to their unique circumstances and very urgent development and reconstruction needs.” This confidence is reflected in the Communiqué issued by the Ninth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in Antigua in 1988: “The Heads of Government… were heartened by the signs of positive economic growth in most Member States.”
The Tenth Meeting of the Community in Grand Anse, Grenada was historic. Seminal historic events intruded. The Soviet Union had collapsed and the gathering forces of globalisation were about to burst on the scene. Hitherto the Community was essentially seeming to expand intra-regional trade, position itself to deal with external economic developments, and create institutions as the CARICOM Export Credit Facility. This had to yield to the exigencies of the moment.
At Grand Anse, the Leaders of the Community pronounced themselves satisfied with “the sustained increase in intra-regional trade.” This was the goal they had pursued over several Summits. They apparently felt themselves free to turn to the larger over arching factors of development and they did so in terms that were to have far reaching implications for the structure of the Community. Conditions were laid for the establishment of a CARICOM Single Market and Community and the related creation of institutions which would generally and comprehensively change the Community as it was then known. In essence, the Community decided to fulfill the ideas of the Community and Common Market by creating the CARICOM and the Single Market and Economy (CSME). But the Single Market was one mechanism to deal with the demands of the Twenty-first Century. Supporting ones such as A Court of Appeal and the Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians (ACCP) had to be re-established.
But other important considerations also began to emerge. The question of the environment and its relationship to development began to take centre stage. The other issues of Global range which could impede production and development, HIV/AIDS, invite scrutiny.
In this section of the publication, Economic Integration is presented in terms of the Community’s reaction to external economic developments rather than in terms of factors which could compel greater economic unity. This is the general direction in which a reading of the Documents would take us. But although unstated by the leaders of the Community there were and are certain factors which though unstated were eloquent by their absence. It is interesting that production integration is becoming once again a formidable subject for discussion and so is the need for a political directorate to guide the creation of a Single Economic space. William Demas once said that the Caribbean Community may one day find that in pursuing economic integration, it will end up being politically united. Has that time come?