Are Caribbean countries facing existential threats?

To all the comments on Norman's inspiring and correct analysis of the current situation I would like to add the following we were discussing just before the hurricane hit the Caribbean. It is about the need for legal options and actions.

The Caribbean countries and their citizens, private sector, civil society, social-economic groups are seriously effected by the impasse in which they ended up after the concluding in December 2007 and signing of the CARIFORUM-EC EPA in October 2008. Now, two years later, October 2010, only a few Caribbean States have ratified the CF-EC EPA. Private sector and other stakeholders in the Caribbean are not interested to implement the Agreement, not able to compete with EU technology, standards, services etc. There is a deadlock and the question is how to find a way out. The EPA will not disappear by ignoring it.

The threat of sanctions by the EU as well as the ongoing negotiations between the EU and Africa, Pacific, Asia, Latin America, Central America, Canada and other regions and countries in the world, questions the way the CF-EC EPA has been negotiated, the concluding was rushed into and signing was done, regardless all the objections from state and non state actors who were not involved and not ready to enter into such a Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement that goes further than the WTO obligations require.

All legal options have to be explored to find solutions.

With regard to the review in 2013 which will give the Caribbean governments the possibility to amend the CF-EC EPA, stakeholders and lawyers should start now to discuss, to draft, to publish and to send their comments to the governments.

Furthermore appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice should be explored.

Is the CCJ competent with regard to CF-EC EPA issues? What are the legal opinions about the CCJ and who is willing to bring these issues before the CCJ?

About the competency of the Caribbean Court of Justice with regard to CF-EC EPA: "The CCJ is an international court with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the rights and obligations created by the CSME, relating to the establishment of economic enterprises, the provision of professional services, the movement of capital, the acquisition of land for the operation of businesses etc.. The CCJ is a permanent, central, regional authoritative institution that authoritatively and definitively pronounce on those rights and corresponding obligations."

The CF-EC EPA will have its impact on the establishment of economic enterprises, the provision of professional services, the movement of capital, the acquisition of land for the operation of businesses etc. : issues that belong to the compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction of the CCJ. Which means that the CCJ is competent to judge in cases with regard to the CF-EC EPA.

If the CCJ is not, which Court in the Caribbean is? Is there another international Court in the Caribbean?

Legal actions should start in the Caribbean, where the impact of the CF-EC EPA and its damages are feared.

About the legal grounds: they could be found in the Human Rights, Environmental Rights and Labour Rights, now being discussed in European Parliament with regard to the FTA negotiations with India, ASEAN, Mercosur etc. and the EU-Korea FTA , such as:

1. There is no binding complaint management system for human rights violations in the CF-EC EPA (and other FTAs);

2. There is no Dispute settlement for all chapters, including the sustainable chapter;

3. The CF-EC EPA will not improve the economic development of the Caribbean countries (?) and will not improve human rights, labour rights and conditions, social and environmental rights and situations in the Caribbean. Social, environmental and labour conditions in the Caribbean are threatened by the CF - EC EPA (longer working hours, no job security, no healthy circumstances, no more access to cheap medicines etc.).

4. The obligations of the CF-EC EPA go further than the WTO obligations require and will have a negative impact on the political, social and economic situation in the Caribbean.

Furthermore in the EU some organizations and Universities are doing research to write papers about the role of the EU, the European Commission, negotiators and advisors. Questions such as : “Who exactly is sitting at the negotiation tables? Who is there from the Commission apart DG Trade? Who are the negotiators and advisors? “

Case studies to find out on which issues the EU presses the ACP governments, which issues actually could be beneficial for the ACP countries but are refused by the EU or the ACP governments etc.

That could also be done by University, Research Institutions and Organizations in the Caribbean.

Joyce van Genderen-Naar,


Are Caribbean countries facing existential threats?

Norman Girvan

The hurricanes of the last few weeks in the Caribbean have reinforced in my mind a growing sense that Caribbean states may be more and more facing a challenge of existential threats. (I prefer this idea to the discourse of ‘failed states’, which I find rather obnoxious and patronising; being associated with a political agenda of ‘humanitarian interventionism’ and the contemporary incarnation of the doctrine of imperial responsibility.) By existential threats I mean systemic challenges to the viability of our states as functioning socio-economic-ecological-political systems; due to the intersection of climatic, economic, social and political developments.

On Saturday 30 October the entire banana crop of St Vincent, the main export industry, was wiped out in the space of one afternoon. St Lucia and Barbados also suffered major economic damage. At the time of writing this, the weather system responsible is expected eventually to veer northwards and deal what will be another lethal blow to Haiti, where over one million people are living with only tented shelters to protect them as a result of the January earthquake. Another major human catastrophe may be unfolding before our very eyes, which we seem impotent to prevent. On the other hand, if the weather system stays on a westward course, it will deal further blows to Jamaica, which has not yet recovered from Tropical storm Nicole (J$20 billion damage), and probably Belize, which is still recovering from hurricane Richard.

30 years ago, one expected to deal with major disasters of this kind, say, once every ten years. Nowadays, most islands expect at least one, and possibly two or three, every year. In other words this now has to be seen as a permanent, recurring phenomenon or integral feature of Caribbean development.

When you combine acute climate change-related stress of this kind with (a) the acute economic stress arising out of trade preferences and the failure to develop a new “insertion” into the global economy, (b) fiscal stress due to unsustainable debt burdens and the impact of the global economic crisis; and (c) the seeming incapacity of governments to control the impact of transnational crime; one must wonder if we are not in fact experiencing an overlapping and interconnected series of challenges which in their totality, challenge the assumptions underlying the ‘national statehood’ dispensation of the region. Suppose, in other words, that we are not dealing simply with a series of ‘natural disasters’, but rather with a deeper, more systemic threat to the viability of our societies as functional entities in any meaningful sense of the word?

Most of us are not likely to view our condition in such apocalyptic terms, of course. Governments and opinion-makers tend to see each such phenomena as disconnected events, each requiring its own specialised response by a dedicated agency or stakeholder. Our governments give the appearance of being in permanent crisis mode, like the captain and crew of a ship caught in a perfect storm desperately trying to work out how to survive the next monster wave (even as they assure the passengers that they can cope!). Crisis management is not a condition that lends itself to strategic thinking.

Yet isn’t strategic thinking, that attempts to discern the connections among seemingly unrelated phenomena, not what is required? Indeed is it not a necessity for survival? I would think that the first step of such an exercise is for us to admit to ourselves that the problems we face are too wide in scopes and too vast in scale for any one Caribbean country to cope with by itself; that the thinking, institutions and structures we have no longer serve us well; and that no one—neither government nor opposition; public sector or private; civil society or academia—can singly provide the answers. Can we begin a conversation nationally and regionally—or rather, take existing conversations to a higher plane?

November 1, 2010.

Norman Girvan

UWI Trinidad & Tobago

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