DOMINICA   -  Trade Information Database


Gerard C. Chasseau, Esq.

    One can argue that the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) continues to function as the most effective method of fostering economic and inevitable political integration for Dominica and its other member states . In a previous comment, I contended that by following and implementing some of the measures, established by the European Economic Community (EEC), now formally called the European Union (EU), the OECS member states could achieve the desired objectives of the OECS Treaty and could serve as a model for true integration in the wider Caribbean. Since achieving independence, Dominica has gained membership in numerous other regional integration movements, most notably the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). However, the focus of this article is on the extent of Dominica's participation and involvement in the OECS.

    A recent review of literature on the OECS discloses that, as the Organization celebrates its twentieth anniversary, tremendous progress has been made since it was established in 1981. Indeed, many of the goals established by the OECS have been implemented in some part. Undoubtedly though, many problems, including a slow march toward political integration or shared sovereignty, continue to plague the OECS. Thus, assuming that the relations between the member states have been reciprocal, it is appropriate to pose the following key question at this juncture: How has membership in the Organization benefited Dominica and the other states?

    While many commentators continue to offer differing views on the efficacy of the Organization's functioning, I contend that continued involvement in the OECS is crucial to Dominica's economic and political survival. The article commences with a brief overview of the OECS, including its objectives and structure, as outlined in the Treaty. A brief comment on the current status of the organization is followed by an analysis of the implications for Dominica as it continues its involvement, and will include some recommendations for more effective involvement. I will conclude by reiterating that adoption of the proposed recommendations could significantly improve Dominica's influence within the OECS and other regional organizations.

Overview of Eastern Caribbean Integration Movements
    The OECS has as its predecessors the Regional Council of Ministers (RCM) and the Council of Ministers of the West Indies Associated States (WISA), both established prior to the attainment of independence by Dominica and the other Windward and Leeward islands. These organizations were aimed at facilitating the formation of a federation of these islands and Barbados, following the failure of the short-lived West Indies Federation in 1962. The RCM and WISA further evolved into the Eastern Caribbean Common Market (ECCM) in 1968. The ECCM was designed to improve trade relations within the Associated States and to ensure their participation on equal terms with the More Developed Countries (MDCS), such as Jamaica and Trinidad.

    It should be noted that the objective of political integration was not an attribute of any of these entities. The primary objectives were the establishment of a common market, improved trade relations with the MDCs, and the free movement of citizens, services and capital between the member states. Inevitably, the attainment of independence necessitated further economic and political unity and coordination in such areas as foreign policy and defense. Thus, the evolution of the ECCM into the OECS. It is noteworthy that the OECS also evolved as a result of the dissatisfaction experienced by member states in their relations with the larger trading partners in CARICOM.

    The OECS Treaty incorporates many of the purposes and objectives found in the WISA and ECCM Treaties. The primary functions as outlined in the OECS Treaty, include:

  • promoting cooperation among member states at the regional and international levels;

  • assisting member states in the realization of the obligations and responsibilities in dealing with the international community;

  • seeking total harmonization of foreign policy;

  • seeking to adopt common positions on international issues;

  • establishing and maintaining joint overseas representation;

  • and promoting economic integration among the member states.

The Authority, comprised of the Heads of Government (mainly Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers) of the member states, is the highest decision-making body in the OECS.

    Structurally, the OECS follows the same format as the WISA and ECCM. The organization is administered by a Central Secretariat, headed by a Director General responsible for the general direction and control of the OECS. The Legal Unit advises the Central Secretariat in matters relating to harmonization of laws of member states and negotiations with regional and international organizations, among other functions. Other significant institutions of the organization include the Foreign Affairs Committee (responsible for developing and coordinating foreign/diplomatic relations), the Defense and Security Committee (responsible for coordinating collective defense and the preservation of peace and security), and the Economic Affairs Committee (responsible for coordinating the affairs of the ECCM).

    Although the Treaty contains no provision for the eventual formation of a political union, the OECS lists as a function the promotion of unity and solidarity and defense of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the member states. (Emphasis supplied). Of course, the actions of the member states during the October 1983 political crisis in Grenada certainly tested the efficacy of this function. Further, as will be discussed later, this provision holds significant implications for Dominica as it currently faces a challenge in its foreign relations.

    It has been argued that the OECS's primary shortcoming has been the inability of the member states to generate any serious advancement toward political integration or shared sovereignty. Nonetheless, although it is clear that the OECS was not established to assist its member states to achieve political integration, the organization's myriad achievements compel the rethinking of this goal. To date, and in light of the continued success of the OECS, the member states, ably led by the current Prime Ministers of Dominica and St. Vincent, have held several conferences aimed at determining the most effective methods of forming a political union.

Implications of Dominica's Continued Involvement in Eastern Caribbean Integration Movements
    In just over twenty years, several of the measures or programs proposed by the OECS for more effective integration have been realized. These measures have been of tremendous benefit to Dominica, as will be shown below. They include the maintenance of joint diplomatic overseas representation through Eastern Caribbean Missions located in London, Ottawa and Brussels, the establishment of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, and the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority, coordinating the utilization of a single currency (the Eastern Caribbean dollar).

    During its tenure, the OECS has also established a number of programs designed to coordinate certain functions and to avoid duplication of efforts by member states. These include the establishment of a Health Policy Management Unit (ECDS), the OECS Education Reform Unit (OERU), the Natural Resources Development and Management (NRMU), the OECS Sports Desk coordinating sub-regional sports programs, the Directorate of Civil Aviation (DCA), the Windward Islands Banana Development Company (WIBDECO), the Export Development and Agricultural Diversification Unit (EDADU), the Eastern Caribbean Investment Promotion Service (ECIPS), the OECS Information Network, the OECS Fisheries Unit, and more recently, the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL).

    These institutions have facilitated collective action in such areas as the purchasing of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, navigational aids and airline operation policy, joint trade promotion, joint investment promotion activities, and regulation of telecommunications for the member states.

    In reviewing the performance of the OECS, it is inarguable that Dominica (and the other member states) has benefited immensely from its involvement. In fact, Dominica's commitment to Eastern Caribbean integration was evidenced by the creation of a "Ministry of OECS Affairs" during the Eugenia Charles administration. The objective of this ministry was to enhance public awareness of the benefits and advantages of membership in the OECS. It was inevitable that Dominica, given its small size, limited resources and financial ability, would seriously consider the idea of an economic union with other Caribbean states having comparable attributes.

    In addition to the areas mentioned above, Dominica has also benefited from the Organization's coordination of foreign policy and joint overseas representation, the maintenance of the Regional Security System, Education Reform, Cooperation in Fisheries, Agriculture and Inter-island migration.

    Concerning the coordination of foreign policy, one of the primary benefits derived is the maintenance of joint missions in England, Canada and Brussels. It cannot be disputed that, considering the current economic crisis (particularly our persistent financial shortfalls, including a current external debt of over $90 million) facing Dominica, this process has resulted in a significant reduction of the expenses involved in maintaining individual missions or embassies. Moreover, the maintenance of joint missions has allowed Dominica and the other member states to present a unified front in matters concerning modern economic diplomacy and international negotiations. This is evidenced by the positions taken by the OECS member states during the ongoing dispute between the United States and the European Union, before the World Trade Organization. The United States continues to zealously challenge the European Union's request for preferential treatment for bananas grown in the Caribbean region. Ironically, the United States is supported by some of the banana producing countries of Central and South America, some of whom are members of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), regional organizations in which Dominica and the other OECS member states hold membership.

    Still on the issue of external or foreign relations, Dominica has been ardently assisted and supported by its sister OECS states in its sustained dispute with Venezuela over ownership of Aves or Bird Island. The disputed guano-producing islet is located 70 miles west of Dominica, but has been claimed by Venezuela, 350 miles to the south. The other member states have pledged to support Dominica in this dispute, which holds serious implications for the maritime boundaries of the member states. Since the support of the OECS solely is not sufficient to assist Dominica in combating the financial (and military) resources available to Venezuela in this dispute, the entire membership of CARICOM has discussed the matter and has expressed a position of support for Dominica.

    Another measure benefiting Dominica is the establishment and maintenance of a Regional Security System (RSS). Although not a component of the OECS, this entity consists of security personnel from the member states and Barbados and functions as a standing army to guard against threats to the security of the member states. The RSS has played a vital role in safeguarding the sub-region against the continuing threats of drug-trafficking, illegal firearms and transnational crime. The existence of the RSS has obviated the need for military expenditures in Dominica.

    In the area of education, the OECS Education Reform Unit (OERU) has formulated policies aimed at creating a closer link between the University of the West Indies and the OECS member states, including the establishment of university centers in these states. The end result is that OECS students can attend these centers in their own territories, with reduced expenditures to Dominica and the other member states, as a further outcome. Other actions of the OERU include the upgrading of technical and vocational education, curriculum development and revision, and the development of programs geared more closely to the needs of the member states. Further actions of this Unit include the proposals for the establishment of an OECS law school.

    A further benefit to Dominica is an awareness of the need for more efficient management and control of our limited natural resources and environment. In fact, the early establishment of national and marine parks in Dominica evidences the commitment to preserve and protect the environment. It is noteworthy that, despite its seemingly persistent economic hardships, the "Nature Island" appears to be determined to preserve its status as a model of efficient environmental control for the rest of the Caribbean. Of course, a well-regulated eco-tourism industry is partly the result of this management and control. These successes are also due in part to the efforts of the Natural Resource Management Unit (NRMU) of the OECS, which has allowed Dominica and the member states to provide the policy, legal and administrative framework for monitoring, controlling and protecting the marine and land-based environment, and monitoring the use of limited natural resources. The establishment of an OECS Environmental Policy Committee has enhanced the significance of this sector.

    The NRMU has also been effective in formulating policies designed to regulate fisheries, specifically, regulation of exploration and exploitation of marine resources of the OECS member states. One resulting benefit of these policies is the establishment of a Fisheries Unit, which is charged with ensuring cooperation among member states in monitoring and regulating fishing stocks and monitoring levels of marine pollution. Moreover, negotiations with third countries involving marine boundaries and fishing rights necessitates unified action in this area.

    One area in which functional cooperation has been enhanced is in the agricultural sector. This has had a significant impact on the economies of the Dominica and the other banana-producing Windward Islands. The governments of these islands oversee the functioning of the Windward Islands Banana Development Company (WIBDECO), which is responsible for all aspects of banana production and export. This entity is currently reviewing methods aimed at diversifying this sector and is working closely with the Export Development and Agricultural Diversification Unit (EDADU) in this regard. This is important, since as previously mentioned, these islands are threatened by the loss of the EU's preferential treatment for bananas. However, the OECS's unified stance in dealing with the WTO has resulted in a delay in implementation of this policy.

    One of the most significant areas of benefit to Dominica involves inter-island migration or "free movement of persons". Although the OECS is in the process of formulating policy in this area (including the recommendation of an OECS passport), the member states do permit limited migration, particularly concerning movement of professionals, athletes, sports officials and journalists. On the one hand, migration of lower level workers between the member states may often offset labor shortages in certain sectors. On the other hand, this process could result in labor displacement and resentment, particularly in member states with high unemployment. This area merits considerable attention as the member states expansion of the OECS into a single common market.

    Having discussed the benefits derived from membership, we now comment on the few drawbacks to Dominica's involvement in the OECS. In any integration movement or organization, the member states ostensibly agree to relinquish part of their sovereignty in order to adopt or abide by the Organization's regulations in order to achieve its goals or objectives. In this regard, Dominica has authorized the OECS to represent its constituents in various defined areas, for example.

    Another drawback is the loss of a member state's exclusive ability to engage in various regional and international transactions. This is a significant attribute of sovereignty. Nonetheless, Dominica and the other member states have delegated this authority to the OECS, principally in the area of diplomatic or foreign representation. A further possible drawback is the possible imposition of sanctions against the Organization by a court or deliberative body, such as the World Trade Organization. Of course, the sanctions would be "collective" in the sense that all member states would be individually and collectively liable.

    The following recommendations are proposed for more effective involvement in the OECS. First, in order to survive in a rapidly changing global environment, Dominica and the other member states should hasten the creation of a single OECS common market. This idea is currently being deliberated by the OECS Authority and would embrace the free movement of people, services, capital and goods throughout the sub-region.

    Also contemplated as part of the common market is the establishment of a Customs Union with a common Customs Administration, including a common external tariff, common procedures and common documentation, and integration of similar productive activity among member states and joint production to maximize the use of the sub-region's limited resources. Of course, these measures would necessitate the elimination of various trade barriers and the implementation of an OECS travel document. Incidentally, the larger member states of CARICOM are contemplating a similar concept (of a single, wider Caribbean market), but given the diverse economies of the membership of this body, the OECS appears more likely to succeed in this venture.

    The concept of an OECS political union or shared sovereignty should not be completely discarded. Undoubtedly, the member states essentially share similar attributes, including a uniform culture, language, legal system, currency and economy, educational system, sports and mutual migration. However, the notions of insularity and "peculiarity" are consistently advanced as stumbling blocks to true political union. I wonder what could be said for the nations of the European Union, considering their myriad differences in history, sovereignty, culture, language, legal systems, ethnicity, disparate economies and monetary policies. Obviously, these have not proven to be prohibitive as the EU seeks deeper union.

    The foregoing discussion has demonstrated that small, vulnerable, "mono-crop" states like Dominica are better able to function in the global market place through membership and involvement in regional economic integration movements like the OECS. The inevitable fact is that Dominica and the OECS member states are confronted by a rapidly shifting global climate: witness the expansion of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), the EU and the Asian trading blocs. Integration is crucial if we are to survive in this global economy. Arguably, although Dominica maintains membership in numerous other regional integration movements, scarce financial resources limit its full involvement. Further, membership in these larger integration movements has led to unavoidable conflicts with other member states (witness the dispute with Venezuela: Both Venezuela and Dominica are members of the OAS and ACS). Nonetheless, membership in the OECS has resulted in tremendous financial and material benefits to Dominica. It is hoped that Dominica's involvement can be further enhanced through adoption of the recommendations proposed above.