The awareness of being a Caribbean nation is one other factor that lies at the heart of Barbados' foreign policy, and this has been the case since the country gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966. The history, culture, geography, social and political frameworks Barbados shares with the majority of its sister islands in the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) make the country's regional consciousness both instinctive and indisputable. And because its Caribbean sensitivities are genuinely self-evident, they cannot easily be separated from the shaping of what is a pragmatic foreign policy agenda.
Indeed, Barbados played a decisive role in the creation of CARIFTA when, in 1968, it collaborated with Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago to launch that early model of Caribbean integration. Barbados went on to become a founding member of its successor, CARICOM, in 1973.
Yet, though the initial motivation for regionalism might be said to be Barbados' intuitive sense of shared history with the other islands of the English-speaking Caribbean, the impetus for regional integration also is based on the conviction that Barbados' vital national interests are most effectively served through regional co-operation and unification with other like-minded small-island states. In this sense, Barbados' foreign policy is rooted in a Caribbean awareness that, itself, illustrates aspects of what is practical as well as what might be considered a cherished ideal.
Thus, in keeping with a realistic vision for Caribbean development that, nevertheless, is able to inspire, Barbados' Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Owen S. Arthur has taken lead responsibility within the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM for the establishment of a regional single market and economy. Today, after 15 years of formal commitments from Governments to the principle of creating a single dynamic regional economy, the member states of CARICOM are closer than ever to achieving that elusive goal.
In point of fact, on January 30, 2006, six CARICOM countries - Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago signed the declaration, which marked the entry into force of the CARICOM Single Market (CSM). Membership of the CSM has been further augmented by the signing of the Declaration to join the Single Market by an additional six member states (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vicent and the Grenadines) on July 3, 2006. In relation to the more complex undertaking linked to the creation of a single economy, with its common currency and harmonised economic and fiscal policies, Prime Minister Arthur and a number of his colleague Prime Ministers are working steadfastly towards creating regional readiness by 2008.
For its part, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is committed to enlarging Barbados' regional economic space through actively enhancing CARICOM and strengthening its economic relations with its hemispheric neighbours. Specifically, the Ministry seeks to:
- promote mutually beneficial economic relations with CARICOM countries in trade and investment, tourism and air services;
- develop a comprehensive programme of functional cooperation with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), with special emphasis on the enhanced management and exploitation of the shared resources of a common Exclusive Economic Zone;
- conclude marine delimitation negotiations with contiguous states;
- negotiate fisheries agreements with Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname; and
- build a strong economic partnership, through CARICOM, with Cuba and with Central American countries, as well as with the Andean Community and MERCOSUR.
Still, there are those who argue that foreign policy co-ordination is the weakest link in the chain of Caribbean regional integration. Although it has been proven that when the Caribbean speaks with one voice or votes as one grouping in international forums, its members are able to exert influence far beyond their size or numbers, this has not always been easy to achieve. More effective co-ordination of foreign policy is thus a major challenge confronting CARICOM into the new millennium.
Though CARICOM originally was made up of the countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, Haiti and Suriname have been granted membership, the Dominican Republic has achieved observer status, and the Community continues to strengthen its relations with Cuba despite that country's own foreign policy challenges vis-à-vis North America and Latin America.
With respect to Haiti, CARICOM continues to seek to play a significant role in the evolution of that country towards a sustainable democracy. Moreover, the countries of the regional grouping are committed to ensuring that Haiti, with its celebrated history as the first Black Republic and only the second country in the Americas to gain freedom from colonial rule, is able to share fairly, along with Cuba and all other countries in the Hemisphere, the fruits of peace and prosperity in the region. Barbados also is mindful that its neighbours in the Dutch and French-speaking dependencies are part of the Caribbean reality and is committed to exploring ways of developing mutually beneficial relations with them.
If Barbados is to successfully negotiate this era of globalisation, it must do so by means of a dynamic regional integration movement; one which has been deepened through the creation of the CSME, but also widened to embrace other countries outside of CARICOM and the English-speaking Caribbean. The Association of Caribbean States (ACS) is an imaginative initiative of CARICOM's that seeks to do just that. It embraces countries both in and surrounding the Caribbean Sea, and is intended to achieve the aim of broadening the scope of Caribbean co-operation in trade, culture, science and technology and the preservation of the marine environment.
Within the Caribbean, Barbados' principal relationships are with:
Antigua and Barbuda
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago