Image: Flags of CARICOM countries. Credit: TELESUR - Photo: 2022

CARICOM’s Policy “Coordination”: Successes, Failures and Limitations

By Reinhard Jacobsen

BRUSSELS (IDN) — The Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) Secretary-General Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti has called for unified positions by the 79-member grouping ahead of several international meetings, namely, the 77th United Nations General Assembly in September, the World Health Summit 2022 in Germany in October as well as the UN Climate Change Conference 2022 (UNFCCC COP 27) to be staged in Egypt in November and the Convention on biological diversity COP 15 in Montreal, Canada in December.

The OACPS Secretary-General made the comments during an in-person address at the 43rd Regular Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) from July 3-5 in Paramaribo, Suriname.

Secretary-General Chikoti told the Caribbean leaders that the Brussels-based organisation exists and operates in a multi-polar and interconnected world, with its various elements closely linked to each other.

“We are witnessing and experiencing fundamental geopolitical changes and alignments, which will impact all countries, regions and continents. The test for our organisation is how do we, together, address challenges and opportunities stemming from this geopolitical change and alignment.”

He said that the Cotonou Partnership Agreement and more so the new OACPS-EU Partnership Agreement provide for that dynamic. The Post-Cotonou Agreement is a legally binding treaty which, is expected to shape political, social and economic relations between 106 countries across four continents.

“We all state that the OACPS-EU relationship is unique, it is special and an example of meaningful cooperation and understanding between the North and the South.”

Against this backdrop, the importance of the “reappraisal” of the foreign policy of the Caribbean Community (CC) is considered valid for at least two reasons. Firstly, the geopolitics of growing attention by the competing superpowers of the US and China has placed the Caribbean and wider Latin America region as prospective beneficiaries of loans, anti-Covid gifts of vaccines and “Belt & Road” investments.

Secondly, the considerable shift in foreign and security policy of the European Union (EU), a longstanding partner of CARICOM in trade and development finance, offers vulnerable Caribbean SIDS eligibility to partner in the EU’s New Green Deal. A corollary would suggest the need for CARICOM to clarify its policy vis-à-vis the post-Brexit EU-27.

Former CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) Colin Granderson has provided a historical overview of processes by which CARICOM pursued “policy coordination” since the 1968 decision of the Heads of Government of the Region to the 1972 establishment of a standing Committee of Ministers to deal with matters of common interest in CC’s FP and continues to function as the Council of Foreign & Community Relations (COFCOR).

In 2001, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (TOC) established the Caribbean Community (CC) and stipulated in Article 16, inter alia, the existence and role of the Community’s Council for Foreign & Community Relations (COFCOR).

In May 2017, in view of the factors propelling a changing international environment and of the importance of adapting CARICOM’s outreach, engagement and foreign policy positions, the COFCOR endorsed the development of a “New Strategy for CARICOM Diplomacy”.

The 2017 “New Strategy” identified niche areas and organisational mechanisms to promote CARICOM’s common positions in the multilateral arena. Organisational improvements included convening Ministerial retreats; forming a Ministerial Bureau of the current Chairperson with an Incoming and Outgoing Chair—the Bureau was authorised to issue statements on behalf of Caribbean Community.

These initiatives are supposed to have resulted in more coordinated treatment of substantive foreign policy issues, thereby raising visibility of CARICOM’s voice multilaterally. Similarly, regular Ministerial and Ambassadorial Caucuses in places such as Washington DC, New York, London, Brussels, Ottawa, Caracas and Geneva were meant to ensure support of CARICOM’s interests from friendly nations of those capitals.

An additional effort of renewed energy for foreign policy engagements took the form of CARICOM’s Permanent Observer Mission at the UN in New York. More recently, a major step to enlarge its global reach with continental Africa was the acceptance of President Kenyatta’s offer in 2019 to host a CARICOM Representation office in Nairobi.

As illustrated above, the impetus for renewed foreign policy “coordination” was regarded by retired ASG Colin Granderson as having a long and distinguished record by CARICOM as evidence of events as far back as 1975.

Then it was that CARICOM spearheaded the Georgetown Agreement, the treaty establishing the formation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, the inter-governmental grouping of initially 46 countries, newly independent of British and French imperialism, that now comprises 79 member-states.

Similar achievements of policy coordination included the founding of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) in 1994 as the “fruit of CARICOM’s regional diplomacy”; stimulating interest at the UN for an International Criminal Court (ICC) that resulted in the Rome Statute of 1998; promoting the UN Arms Trade Treaty of 2013 and particularly the active role in the 2015 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to ensure issues affecting Small Island & Coastal Developing States (SIDS).

Despite notable instances and statements to portray effective F P coordination by CARICOM, challenges have persisted from multiple sources. For example, there are divergent interests among the 15 member states and increasingly, development policy issues are beyond the remit of Foreign Ministers; as in dealing with development finance and “graduation” by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) or correspondent banking regulations and tax governance in harmful tax jurisdictions, so designated by arbitrary European Union (EU) criteria.

Indeed, structural issues of “vulnerability” and capacity to enable “resilience” of SIDS become matters for a “whole of government” approach beyond the remit of the conventional “foreign policy” arena.

However, implementing its legitimate role of policy “coordination”, with admirable, articulate and ambitious declarations notwithstanding, CARICOM’s foreign policy practice, too often, reveal inconsistencies and abandonment of established principles. This is the view advanced by Ambassador Frank Ward from his long and distinguished experience as Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

Caricom’s Wavering Inconsistencies

Acknowledging the gains and impact from collective CARICOM’s interventions, Ambassador Ward attributes those successes to the robust pursuit of national and regional interests on the global stage, led by strong internationally recognised and respected Caribbean leaders.

Ambassador Ward queried whether COFCOR, a Council of Ministers, can effectively coordinate a foreign policy built on consensus when the political leaders are at odds about the region’s priorities? He witnessed principles, once held sacrosanct, being abandoned for short-term benefits. Those principles consisted of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states.

When unambiguously upheld, those principles guided an admirable display of coherence, as was evident by the CARICOM-Cuba inaugural engagement of diplomatic relations since 1972. These relations have been maintained for decades, defying US Cold War geo-political pressure. Such actions placed CARICOM in sync with the geo-political policies of most of UN Member States.

But such coherence proved futile in the face of the 1983 US invasion of Grenada undertaken on the pretext that the Cuba-funded international airport, built for the government of Grenada by Cuban technology and expertise, was portrayed by US propaganda as a base for the expansion of Cuba’s military presence and influence in the Caribbean.

Policy inconsistencies also surfaced due to US President Donald Trump’s imposition of sanctions on Venezuela, which created divisions among CARICOM leaders. Trump’s actions were opposed by the six CARICOM states, with Cuba, that are members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA), comprising comprises Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and CARICOM countries – Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines. This marked an acute division and disruption of a common united position in CARI

Ambassador Ward also considered as deeply regrettable the betrayal by CARICOM’s betrayal of the self-determination of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara by conceding administrative authority to Morocco. He noted that as far back as 2001, the UN Office of Legal Affairs denied any such authority had been granted. Assertions by the Moroccan government deserved to be condemned as contrary to international law and in violation of the UN Charter, rather than to be endorsed by CARICOM member states.

Another issue, in Ward’s view, on which CARICOM had wavered in commitment to its stated principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity was the Caribbean region’s abandonment of their long-supported two-State solution to the Palestinian cause. Short-term favours granted by Israel proved too strong for CARICOM to remain consistent in its defence of Israel’s rights to its homeland. Similarly, it was regrettable that on China, a common CARICOM policy was lacking.

In assessing “foreign policy coordination”, Ambassador Ward was of the view that a policy for long-term partnerships needs to be based on trust and expectations that CARICOM would act with collective responsibility and integrity; otherwise, doubts are created on trustworthiness.

Combined with this, the intellectual strength of CARICOM’s political leaders is essential, according to Ambassador Ward. This is imperative to ensure effective coordination of Caribbean foreign policy. [IDN-InDepthNews — 28 July 2022]

Image: Flags of CARICOM countries. Credit: TELESUR

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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