CSME & China—Challenges of the Times or Letting Go to Gain More

Marcia Forbes PhD
The road to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for China was not an easy one. While the challenges and circumstances are different, the road to CSME for the Caribbean region, particularly Jamaica at this time, is similarly difficult. It has been almost 18 years since Grand Anse and the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. So too was China’s accession to the WTO a very long process, extending over a fifteen year period. But they got there! The terms of China’s protocol of accession (entry ticket) were more far-reaching than those of any other country. These are described as WTO Plus.
As a planned, state controlled economy, as opposed to a market economy, China had to make sweeping changes to be WTO compliant. These included:--
  • Significant reductions in tariffs;
  • Introduction of a tariff-rate quota system to bring tariffs for key agricultural commodities down to almost zero for imports;
  • Gradual removal of quotas and licenses which restrict imports;
  • Reduction in use of state trading to control agricultural and other key imports;
  • Opening up of critical service sectors such as telecoms, banking and insurance;
  • Commitment to adhere to international standards in protection of intellectual property;
  • Agree to its trading partners using mechanisms to cut down flow of Chinese goods into foreign markets.
China saw it in its best interest to look beyond the ‘bitter medicine’ imposed by the WTO in order to reap the benefits to be derived from international trade. In so doing its 1.3 billion people will benefit. Are we in the region similarly disposed to take our ‘medicine’ so that our populations, fewer than 7 million for the entire English speaking Caribbean, will benefit? 
Sir Shridath Ramphal and his colleagues, in their proposal for carrying the regional process further, speak of “an urgent need for CARICOM to rise to a higher level of regionalism - one that … fulfils the manifest yearning of Caribbean people for an effective system of governance in matters of regional integration.” As we wrestle with the way forward regarding the Caribbean Court of Justice, will we agree to let the voice of the people prevail? Vox populi, vox dia—‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’. Or are we too afraid that Sir Shridath and his colleagues may be wrong and their assumption regarding the yearnings of Caribbean people unfounded? 
Are we really committed to regional integration or would we prefer to each ‘paddle our own canoe’? Perhaps Charles Cobb hit the nail on the head when he recently appeared to describe the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as a better deal than the CSME. Unlike China which saw tremendous trade potential from being a member of the WTO and was therefore able to justify taking the ‘bitter medicine’, it may be that CARICOM members just can’t see enough trade benefits from the CSME. If that is so, I think it may be useful for us to heed the wisdom of an old Jamaican proverb—“Learn fe dance a yard before yuh dance abroad” Let’s work with the CSME  and maximize its potential even while we prepare for our future within the FTAA. After all that groupings is still not yet up and running and is itself fraught with challenges.