ALMOST from the moment Mia Mottley became Prime Minister of Barbados she has been womanfully trying to lift the Caribbean integration movement out of the doldrums and breathe life into it.
Addressing the 2019 Caribbean Forum in Barbados last Wednesday, she again put muscle behind the effort with her proposal to link the region via seabridges to get people and products moving around the region.
Among Caricom leaders, PM Mottley is a rare bird who is willing to stand up for regional integration and not ride the horse of historic division. She has clearly thought through the benefits, particularly in the medium and long term, of regional integration for her country and is anxious for Barbadians to stand behind it.
One idea to which she gave heavy backing last week was that of maritime seabridges linking the islands to facilitate easier movement of people and produce “so that farmers in Caroni, or Castries, or in Kingstown or Roseau can get their produce to market… on a daily basis”. Given the high cost of regional air travel which is a major disincentive to intra-Caribbean travel, the suggestion of a regional ferry service is worthy of serious study.
In the world that is unfolding before our eyes, the island-nations of the Caribbean need imagination solutions if they are to thrive and prosper well into the future. Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the challenge is all too real. Our reality of dwindling supplies of oil and gas, especially in a world that is decidedly turning against fossil fuels, makes for a very uncertain future, so uncertain that we seem afraid to address it. However, whether we plan for it or not, the future is coming. As PM Mottley already recognises, we have hardly tapped into the opportunities that were available under the long-envisioned Caribbean Single Market and Economy. For one reason or another, and mostly for the lack of regional leadership, the potential of an integrated regional community, market and economy lies fallow due to a complex set of trading, political and social arrangements that go back to the pre-Independence period and which continue to militate against integration.
A current example is Guyana which is heading into a major economic boom fuelled by the exploitation of massive new finds of oil and gas. With T&T on the opposite end of the exploitation cycle, energy interests in this country see Guyana as a very attractive option for investment and expansion in this period of downturn. And yet, it is hard to miss the tone of distrust of T&T investors and professionals that is coming out of Guyana.
Had T&T invested in building a strong relationship with Guyana and scotched the instinct to xenophobia, this country as a fellow Caricom member would have been Guyana’s preferred ally for developing its oil and gas industry. T&T investors would not have to jostle for a place in the lengthening queue of prospectors lining up for a piece of the Guyana pie.
Time is not on our side, but however small the window, T&T needs to get on board with PM Mottley’s push to realise the dream of Caribbean integration.