In a move that will deepen concerns over the proposed political union between this country, Grenada, St Vincent and St Lucia and its relationship with Caricom, Manning told reporters that the existing mechanisms in Caricom would not allow economic integration to take place at the required pace given worldwide developments which threaten the future prosperity of the region.
“We feel that the Caricom process is too slow. We are trying to accelerate it and take it further,” Manning said, echoing the views expressed in an August 10 proposal for political union drafted by Professor Vaughn Lewis and Ambassador Cuthbert Joseph.
Manning also downplayed the refusal of Jamaica and Belize to join his proposed political union, saying this was never the purpose of a two-day trip which saw him travel about 6,000 miles and visit four countries in 36 hours as he held in personam talks with regional leaders.
“We are not inviting anybody to join. Whoever wishes to join is free to come forward, it’s on the table to all,” Manning said, adding, “there was never any question of us being blanked.” “It’s a coalition of the willing...any country that’s willing to come we’ll welcome them, but we are not inviting anybody to join,” the Prime Minister said cryptically.
“I hope that nobody writes anymore of Manning being blanked,” he added. “Nobody blanked Manning or any such thing...(These countries) are not opposed, they are just are unable to join.”
Jamaica, Belize and, now, Suriname, have said no to Manning’s union.
The Prime Minister said the political union would be crucial for this country, in light of the end of trade conditions which had previously isolated the region from the effects of competitive global trading. He pointed out that markets of the countries Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) block were this country’s second largest and this was part of the rationale of the union.
“A number of countries are investing in those countries of the eastern Caribbean. And there are a lot of dividends being remitted to our own country that strengthens our economy,” the Prime Minister said.
“It makes no sense for small countries...to stay as individual disparate territories, especially in the context of changed economic circumstances in the world.”
Manning pointed out that preferential access to the markets of Europe, had long expired, the preferential quota access and pricing are no longer existent. Non-reciprocity in trade is also now gone, Manning also said, alluding to a key issue at the heart of the signing of the European Partnership Agreement (EPA).
“It is not a question of one country carrying the other, it is a question of all of us getting together...For those who feel TT is such a strong economy let us experience a natural disaster and see how independent we are,” he said. “It is not us carrying them, they carry us also.”
Several models for the union would be considered, Manning said, by a special committee comprising the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance. He said the proposed union might see a common army, currency and common security arrangements such as an anti-drug patrol in the southern Caribbean. The issue of political union will also be debated in Parliament.
Manning flagged the need, however, for adequate consultation on the issue to take place with the population, saying, “the populations of the country would be brought into the process.” But once more he blanked the idea of holding a referendum on the issue, saying cryptically that the population would be “consulted” via the next general election, due one year before the achievement of the union.