– CDB urges CARICOM leaders
CARICOM member states must look at new ways of working to realise the full implementation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), Dr. Justin Ram- Director of Economics at the Caribbean Development Bank has said.
Dr. Ram was at the time speaking at the opening of a two-day shareholder forum on CSME held at the Ramada Princess Hotel, Guyana, last week Friday. “So we need to move away from the old way of working to the new way of working,” he said, while calling on the region’s leaders to identify priorities for moving CSME forward. “Gather the best people from across the region, from government, private sector, labour, civil society and perhaps lock them in a room for about two months so that they can devise an implementation plan,” said Dr. Ram.
He said the implementation plan with attached budget must be effectively communicated to the region’s people so as to receive feedback. Persons must be identified as responsible for the implementation and a delivery unit for the CSME. Additionally, it was recommended that annual reports be presented on the progress made.
The economic director of the CDB told the gathering of regional officials, which included Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves; former Prime Minister of Jamaica Bruce Golding and CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque, that discussions on the CSME and its implementation are very important. He pointed to a blueprint for the Caribbean Economy which was recently published by the CDB and the many challenges facing the region.
Dr. Ram made it clear that while the region is plagued with several challenges, there is a need to “flip those challenges and boost the resilience of our region by implementing fiscal growth to have rainy day funds.” “The CSME is critical for our region,” he stated, while noting that “given our challenges it is time for us to step back in order for us to jump better.”
“We really need to step back and take a look at what we are going to do in the region, so that we can jump better into the future,” Dr. Ram opined. He said based on data compiled by the CDB, some countries have recorded average growth rate since the 2007 recession, while noting that the region’s economy grew by an average of two per cent. In 2017, he said Dominica recorded a negative 6.9 per cent given the effects of Hurricane Maria while Grenada recorded a positive 4.5 per cent growth. Dr. Ram said too that debts are at unsustainable levels again, not evenly distributed, while pointing to a low of six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to a high of 150 per cent of GDP at the end of 2017.
He reasoned that governments have been spending large amounts on wages and salaries and that foreign currency reserves are a threshold. There are however a few countries whose reserves are at an undesirable point. Turning his attention to productivity and competitiveness, the CDB Director said at a recent board of governors meeting in Grenada, it was disclosed that extra-regional travel increased significantly between 2006 and 2016 while intra-regional travel declined by 1.8 per cent. The Caribbean region, he said, has been ranked on average in 2008 at 59 out of 178 while in 2017 it ranked at 123 on average out of 190 countries.
Meanwhile, as it relates to social and human development, Dr. Ram disclosed that unemployment rates in the Caribbean are extremely high—as high as 25 per cent in some member countries and as low as three or four per cent. He said too that youth unemployment is even higher.
Moreover, the CDB official said that a look at the population trend, by 2100, it is expected that many countries in the region will have declining populations. He pointed to Jamaica, Trinidad, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada as examples. In the case of Jamaica, it is predicted that that country’s population will decline by some 50 per cent while Trinidad’s will decline by 28 per cent.
St Vincent and the Grenadine’s population is expected to decline by 29 per cent while Grenada is expected to have less people than it had in the 1950s. Notwithstanding these predictions, Dr. Ram made it clear that population dynamics are changing rapidly globally. He questioned whether the Caribbean region is ready for the global changes while stating that many of the region’s countries have lost about 70 per cent of their labour in more than 12 years. “Europe will go from 10 per cent to six per cent and Asia will decline from 60 per cent to 43 percent,” he said while noting that North America, which now has 5 percent of the world’s population, is expected to decrease by four per cent by 2100. It has also been projected that Africa’s population will rise from 17 per cent to about 40 per cent.
“We ultimately believe that building resilience must start at the household level; a resilient household means a resilient society and economy…I think that the integration movement is not only important for economic growth and social cohesion but is critical given the vulnerabilities we face in our region. Our people need the ability to move without restrictions and we need to trade freely,” said Dr. Ram who noted that the Region needs to be able to take advantage of the global population trends.