One for all, all for one?

CARICOM’s step towards free movement in the Caribbean.

The recent Caribbean Community (“CARICOM”) meeting held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, made history with a groundbreaking decision: allowing the free movement of citizens within the region. This decision, set to take effect from 30th March 2024, will permit nationals of CARICOM member states to live and work in any of the 15 member countries. Along with this, citizens will be granted a minimum set of rights, including access to basic education, primary and emergency healthcare and social security. To finance these social services across the region, a vehicle will be established by CARICOM member states. 

The move towards free movement of people within the Caribbean Single Market marks a significant achievement, “The arrangement includes the ability of persons to gain employment through free movement,” confirmed a former Regional Diplomat “and this would be the biggest benefit. There is also the ability to exchange skills and professional services,” but it likely comes with notable challenges.

“The arrangement includes the ability of persons to gain employment through free movement… and this would be the biggest benefit. There is also the ability to exchange skills and professional services.”

A former Regional Diplomat

Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit emphasised the importance of political efforts to approve legal modifications in each jurisdiction. These changes will be essential for the successful implementation of laws that bind this common market strategy. However, doubts have been expressed about the implementation date due to the complexity of the negotiations ahead. CARICOM member states have historically prioritised their self-interests, often seeking opt-outs to protect their economic interests. A former Advisor to a Regional Prime Minister notes an issue about “the fact that countries within the region are significantly becoming more insular and people are afraid of losing their jobs to other skilled workers entering their countries.” 

Despite these challenges, if each country can set aside its own interests and cooperate fully, the liberalisation of labour mobility could bring substantial economic benefits, potentially accounting for over 7% of the region’s GDP and “it is expected that persons will be able to travel to Member States with only a travel permit and, in some cases, a CARICOM passport,” suggested the former diplomat, “however, how prepared are we to meet the needs of these new travellers?” Removing barriers to movement can also aid in restructuring economies as “synergistic strategies can be developed by different country resources to partner and expand these industries,” explained the former advisor, boosting overall growth. 

Furthermore, free movement of people could serve as a steppingstone towards deeper regional integration, paving the way for the establishment of a supranational political entity. This entity, while preserving each state’s sovereignty, could be instrumental in addressing critical issues such as climate change, violent crime, tax policies, economic competition and other regional measures. A unified approach to these challenges could foster greater resilience and progress across the Caribbean. 

However, to achieve such a grand vision of regional integration, CARICOM member states must navigate the complexities of collective decision-making and coordination. This will require a willingness to compromise and find common ground for the greater good of the region. As the former Advisor to a Regional Prime Minister recommends, “The next step should be the concretisation of the region into one economic trading block and then move towards full economic integration as a single economy.” 

“The next step should be the concretisation of the region into one economic trading block and then move towards full economic integration as a single economy.” 

A former Advisor to a Regional Prime Minister, the Caribbean

The CARICOM meeting’s decision to allow free movement of citizens within the region represents a landmark achievement in Caribbean integration. While challenges lie ahead in terms of legal modifications and negotiations, the potential economic benefits and opportunities for deeper integration make this endeavour well worth pursuing. However, “it doesn’t seem on face value that all the countries are very interested, or most are not interested in accelerating this process,” stated the former advisor, “politicians prefer to be a ‘big fish in a small pond’ than to be a significant player in a large pond.”

By transcending self-interests and embracing a collective vision, CARICOM member states can pave the way for a stronger, more united Caribbean community that addresses shared challenges and embraces shared opportunities. Through unity and cooperation, the region can hopefully overcome “a lot of duties and trade disputes” and chart a course, where the free movement of people is just the beginning of a more integrated and resilient Caribbean. 

 

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