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The Dominican Republic in Caricom? Yes, we can

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I was informed recently of an article which circulated in the whole of the Caribbean region, signed by Sir Ronald Sanders, a Guyanese national and former diplomat of his country, in which certain affirmations were made on which I would like to make some comments.

The starting point of the article is the suggestion made by the Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic, Mr Carlos Morales Troncoso, about the fact that the Dominican Republic “should join” the Caribbean Community and its Common Market (Caricom).

As from the third line, Mr Sanders sets the tone of his article when he says that: “This would not be a good development for Caricom now.”

Then the author of the article mentions the fact that, on various occasions, the Dominican Republic expressed the wish to join Caricom, having been given observer status in 1982 and having submitted a request for full-fledged membership in 1991. Mr Sanders specifies that Caricom did not respond formally to the last request made 14 years ago.

The main reasons put forward by Mr Sanders to justify the fact that Caricom did not respond relate to the fear felt by the governments and private sectors of the organization’s member states to see their countries swamped by goods produced more cheaply in the Dominican Republic because of” its lower-paid work force” and “greater economies of scale”. He also refers to the difference in population (without Haiti) of 5 million as opposed to 8 million inhabitants in 1991.

There’s also another reason put forward by the former diplomat whereby Caricom governments were not confident that the Dominican Republic would hold to its positions on regional and international issues at the time.

Regarding Mr Saunders’ assertion that “while the Dominican Republic was courting Caricom, it was also flirting with the Central American group of countries”, it can also be said that, irrespective of the very rude terms used, on both occasions, the Dominican Republic acted as a sovereign state, taking account of its relationship of neighbourhood, of its historic and cultural links, of its common interests and objectives, while sincerely wishing to promote regional integration.

The Dominican Republic is located right in the middle of the Caribbean and, for this country, the countries of Central America are as much neighbours and friends as those of Caricom. In this regard, we ask ourselves: are the Caricom countries not discussing – or negotiating – with a view to strengthening their relations with the countries of Central America, with those of Mercosur and those of the Andean Group?

Is it considered a disadvantage or a lack of courtesy that one of Caricom members, i.e. Belize, is also a member of the Central American Integration System?

Mr Sanders’ assertion whereby “a few years later, Caricom was constrained by external factors to formalize a relationship with the Dominican Republic” is painful and surprising.

Does this mean that, even though the Dominican Republic had made various attempts to get closer to the Caricom countries, that these had acted only because they were obliged by circumstances, i.e., by the alleged intention of the United States and the European Community “to redefine Haiti and the Dominican Republic, by including them in negotiation units with the other Caricom states so as to sign agreements relating to initiatives which were taken by them (US and EU) in relation to the Caribbean”?

Mr Sanders mentions the Free-Trade Agreement between the DR and Caricom and the creation of Cariforum, without giving them the importance that they deserve, nor putting them in the right context. One may wonder whether the little importance granted by him to these steps towards regional integration is due to the fact that he believes that their existence is due uniquely to the above-mentioned pressure exercised by external factors.

As far as Mr Sanders is concerned, the Dominican Republic is motivated only by its own interest, i.e. that “what seems to be driving this renewed interest by the Dominican Republic in joining Caricom is not a desire to be an integral part of a community with its member states, but a belief that it could better negotiate an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union if it were a full member of Caricom”.

This assertion by Mr Sanders assumes that the Dominican Republic acted, on this occasion, only because it was afraid to be at a disadvantage in negotiations between our region and the European Union.

Mr Sanders should be aware that when the Dominican Republic decided to negotiate together with the Caricom countries, it did so in a sovereign manner, after having widely consulted all the country’s various sectors concerned, fully confident that our interests would be defended by our negotiators as well as by those of the Caricom countries, following adequate negotiations and the adoption of common positions.

We know that our negotiators are part and parcel of the Caribbean team of negotiators and that they are supported in the same manner by the Regional Negotiating Machinery to which we belong and in which we have full confidence. 

When the Dominican Republic decided to negotiate with the Caribbean, and not in an individual manner, a possibility which was also envisaged by the ACP Group and the European Union, it did so fully aware of the fact that this was a suitable way of promoting regional integration, a process which was necessary so as to face the challenges of an ever increasing globalized market.

This decision is to be considered on an equal footing as the one taken by the Dominican Republic when it united itself with Central America in its Free-Trade Agreement with the United States, in the same way that it signed both agreements of the same nature with Caricom and with Central America.

Mr Sanders overlooked the fact that in 1997 the Dominican government proposed a Strategic Alliance between the countries of Central America and the islands of the Caribbean, whose objectives were the following:

  1. Create a free-trade area of goods and services between the countries of Central America and those of the Caribbean.

  2. Strengthen the region’s national, intraregional and foreign investment capacity among signatory countries.

  3. Open and liberalize markets for air and maritime transport services.

  4. Promote intraregional tourism.

  5. Increase the region’s negotiation capacity, by means of intraregional coordination of policies and strategies outside the region, in relation with the United States, the European Union and WTO.

This proposal outlines a strategic vision aimed at strengthening the regional space with common positions, objectives, interests and goals. Is it a crime, by any chance, to wish to boost the negotiation capacity?

This proposal, which is in tune with the intervention of the Dominican Republic’s Foreign Minister at the XIV Cariforo Ministers meeting which took place a few weeks ago, also underlines Mr Sanders’ short-term vision of the role which the Dominican Republic could play in the region, once it succeeds moving a step further in its integration.

The article also makes reference to the disadvantage which the governments and private sectors of the Caribbean countries would have if they were to struggle with Spanish in their relations with the Dominican Republic and in their meetings at Caricom’s General Secretariat.

The Dominican Republic never shrunk away from the possibility of having to negotiate and trade in a language other than Spanish. This has been our way of operating with a lot of countries in the world. Mr Sanders does not seem to be aware of Trinidad and Tobago’s – an English-speaking country - trade balance with the Dominican Republic, which is in favour of the former.

Does this mean, by any chance, that the other Caricom countries cannot aim at the same without necessarily having Spanish as their mother tongue? Furthermore, we do not agree with Mr Sanders when he states that Caricom entrepreneurs would be at a disadvantage if they were to have to trade in Spanish.

The possibility that a greater number of Caricom nationals would learn Spanish, in the same way that a greater number of Dominicans would express themselves in English should not be considered as a disadvantage, but, on the contrary, as a way of promoting and strengthening regional integration. To realize this, one should just see for oneself the European Union with its 25 member states and 21 official languages. 

We find it difficult to envisage the progress of regional integration with attitudes such as those of Mr Sanders, which, according to what he states in his article, correspond to those of Caricom governmental and private sectors.

The Dominican Republic is fully aware of the fact that this is not the spirit which prevails amongst the various Heads of States and Governments of our region and we are convinced that they will react in a positive manner to the wish expressed by the Dominican Republic’s government to form part of a region which is ever more integrated.  

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