Dominican Today | 2 June 2006
Europeans seek integration of the Dominican Republic into the Caribbean
Santo Domingo.- One of the little understood aspects of the negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe is that it requires the determination of which nations constitute the region.
Europe favours an arrangement that is all embracing. It wants a single agreement that relates it to all of the nations of Cariforum within a single customs union. That is to say one that brings together the independent Anglophone Caribbean and Haiti (Caricom) with the Dominican Republic and in some as yet unspecified way, the Overseas Territories of Britain and Holland and the French Départements d’outre mer.
For its part, the region argues that it requires variable geometry and differentiation so as to accommodate its three regional integration processes: the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME); the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS); and the Caricom- Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement. Its position on the Bahamas and the non-independent Caribbean is as yet undefined.
Within these differing positions the Dominican Republic has been seeking to clarify its status within Cariforum for the purposes of the EPA negotiations and its future regional economic relationships. It also believes that it has an important political and economic role to play with the region with Latin neighbours and can bring critical mass to the Caribbean’s global presence by enlarging both the political and economic space of the region.
In early April at an EU/Cariforum meeting, the Dominican Republic as hosts put forward a proposal that would have had the effect of clarifying its position. In part, it suggested that there should be a Cariforum Secretariat. It also suggested that it should be a member of the Caribbean Development Bank.
Implicit in the proposal was the message that the moment had come for Caricom’s members to decide whether the Dominican Republic was inside or outside a broader regional entity, that Caricom’s members should accept that there was now a need to cede a degree of sovereignty and autonomy to the wider grouping, and that the Dominican Republic wanted greater equity in its regional relationships.
The meeting compromised by agreeing that the Dominican Republic’s President, Leonel Fernandez, would speak on these issues at the July 3 to 6 meeting of Caricom Heads of Government meeting in St Kitts. Since then it seems there have been no substantive exchanges on the issue. As a consequence, the Dominican Republic is reviewing it options and there is a possibility that an inter-regional crisis may be in the offing.
Senior figures in Santo Domingo make clear that by far their preferred choice is a strong and positive relationship with Caricom in the context of Cariforum and an EPA with Europe. However, they feel bruised by the manner in which they have been treated. They believe promises have been broken and that their many requests for a changed relationship have been ignored.
They point to the rapidly closing EPA negotiating timetable and the need to determine the configuration of the Caribbean in order to determine how they will relate to the region. They make clear that their strategic and economic concerns are leading them to consider other possible regional configurations.
And it is here that the absence of information about the Dominican Republic in the English speaking Caribbean is of relevance and requires better assimilation into regional thinking. If President Fernandez does attend the Caricom Heads of Government meeting he will be travelling in the knowledge that he has turned his economy around, exceeded IMF growth projections and has just won an extraordinary victory in Congressional elections enabling his party to control both houses of the legislature.
Put bluntly this means that the Dominican Government is unlikely to want to be seen by its 8.9m people as a supplicant or as a nation to be further delayed or rejected by Caricom. Perversely, in an Anglophone Caribbean in which differing scales of economic development continue to bedevil the economic integration process, some may see this as providing an opportunity to walk away or to continue to delay.
If this is the outcome, it raises fundamental questions about which of the now very different ideas of Caribbean that exist in the region will succeed, and where Europe and North America might place their long term emphasis in their Caribbean relationship.
Speaking recently about the need for early resolution of the Dominican Republic’s relationship, one senior figure from the Anglophone Caribbean suggested that it was unfortunate that the inability of the regional secretariat to provide answers was leading Caricom into a position where first the EC and then the Dominican Republic was placing pressure on the Anglophone part of the region to make decisions in an atmosphere of crisis. What was needed, he suggested, was an unequivocal response to both the Dominican Republic and the EC at the earliest opportunity indicating who will occupy the economic space that an EPA will define.
One option being floated as a solution is the setting of a target date for a Cariforum economic space that would be created well beyond the date on which an EPA comes into being. This would, it is suggested, accommodate the issue of a variable geometry that accommodates the Dominican Republic. Another focuses on the creation of some form of agreement between the Dominican Republic, Caricom and the EU that enables it to be associated with a Caribbean EPA.
No one should be under any illusion that the integration of the Dominican Republic into the Caribbean as a whole will be politically challenging, economically complex and subject to the incomprehension and even distrust that seems to characterise the relationship at many levels. What is needed is need is a sense of political direction in Caricom as to where it wants its relationship with its Hispanic neighbour to go.