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Caricom: Q&A with Secretary General Edwin Carrington
The Wall Street Journal / November 18, 1998

By Larry Luxner

Edwin Carrington, a native of the Caribbean island of Tobago, has a master's degree in economics from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. In 1970, he joined Caricom as chief of economics and statistics, two years later becoming director of the Caricom Trade and Integration Division. From 1976 to 1985, he was deputy secretary-general at the African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) Secretariat in Brussels, and from 1980 to 1985 served as the organization's secretary-general. After a short stint as Trinidad's high commissioner to Guyana, Carrington was appointed secretary-general of Caricom in August 1992. The 60-year-old diplomat, who speaks English, French and some Spanish, was interviewed earlier this month at Caricom headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana.

Q: How would you characterize the major achievements of Caricom over the last 25 years?

A: "For us, the 25th anniversary of Caricom is an occasion of outstanding significance, not just for the governments but also the people of the region.What it signifies is that we have been able to sustain for a quarter of a century a process of intense cooperation across a broad sweep of national and regional interests. Our strengthening process is reflected in the widening of the Community to Suriname, which has joined Caricom as the first non-English-speaking member, and Haiti, which was accepted last year but hasn't yet completed the terms and conditions of entry.

Q: What is Caricom's biggest challenge within the region?

A: "Deepening the integration process. Our goal is free movement, not only of goods, but of services, capital and skilled people across the entire Caribbean Community -- something close to what the European Union has done. As small individual units, we are not viable politically or economically. We are much more viable as a group."

Q: Cuban President Fidel Castro recently visited Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica in an effort to strengthen relations between Cuba and the English-speaking Caribbean. Is there been any move to admit Cuba as a member of Caricom, despite U.S. objections?

A: "There is no talk yet about Cuba joining Caricom. We have established a joint Cuba-Caricom commission to deal with trade, technical assistance, transportation, communications and scientific exchange.

Q: One of the most contentious issues facing Caricom is the debate over preferential tariffs for Caribbean banana exports. What are you doing to fight Washington's opposition to those preferences?

A: "The latest position is that the U.S. government is opposing the revised EU Banana Protocol, which is part of the Lomé Convention and says that the traditional supply of bananas to the European market should continue at conditions no less favorable than in the past. Certain U.S. companies which sell Latin American bananas to Europe used the World Trade Organization agreement to bring a challenge to the EU, charging they were being discriminated against.

The EU undertook certain changes to try to make the banana regime more compatible with the U.S. position. One of the steps it took was to increase the quota available to non-ACP members. That has increased the supply of bananas on the market, bringing down prices and reducing earnings [for Caribbean islands]. If you reduce the earnings enough, then the cost of producing becomes higher than the earnings.

Q: Then maybe these islands shouldn't be in the banana business.

A: Fine. Then the Americans should not be in a number of areas for which they have quotas and limitations, such as sugar. By subsidizing yourself, you prevent others from getting access to your market. The United States is not a producer of bananas, yet she's leading the charge against Europe. The heads of government [of Caricom] have unanimously expressed their disappointment with U.S. policy."

Q: Is there any validity at all to the U.S. argument?

A: The Windward Islands -- Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada -- are heavily dependent on bananas for foreign-exchange earnings, in some cases for 70% of foreign exchange, yet their overall exports constitute no more than 3% of the world market. If people lose the capacity to earn their income legally, they'll try to earn money by any means possible. There's an inextricable link between economic development and drugs. If you destroy the banana industry, you'll only exacerbate the drug problem. We have told President Clinton that if you want to get an appreciation of what bananas mean to the Caribbean, think of what cars mean to Detroit."

Q: What islands are being hurt the most by the new restrictions?

A: "There is a tendency to think that the banana problem is one only for the Windward Islands alone. In reality, the problems spread wider than these islands, because they are critical markets for manufactured exports from non-banana-producing/exporting countries like Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. A loss of their markets will impact significantly on manufacturing exports of such countries, with consequences not only for foreign exchange earnings but perhaps even more critically so for employment. Thus, any loss of the banana market can have a domino effect right through the Community."

Q: What about Caricom's efforts to win NAFTA-like parity for CBI beneficiary nations?

A: When Clinton visited Barbados last year, he pledged to support the expeditious passage of legislation by the United States to confer CBI treatment on an extended basis to products of Caribbean origin. But what he put before Congress was so overburdened with matters that could not possibly hope to win Congressional support, that the net effect was not supportive. In the meantime, there has been significant diversion of investment by U.S. companies, particularly in the apparel industry. Jamaica is suffering the most."

Q: In what areas have you seen closer cooperation with Washington?

A: "The problems we refer to, particularly bananas and CBI enhancement, are very real. However, our overall relationship must also take into account improving relationships in the area of justice and security, which covers drugs as well. Under the process of cooperation between [Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright and the foreign ministers of the Caribbean, overall relations with the U.S. have been slowly improving.

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