There are numerous cultural ties among the various Caribbean islands, mainly related to the European empires to which they were linked during the colonial era and to the languages they inherited from those empires. While Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are culturally tied to Spain and share the Spanish language, other islands remain culturally tied to Britain (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana), others to France (Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe), others to Holland (Sint Maarten), and others to Denmark (St. Croix and St. Thomas). In fact, the Caribbean has one of the highest concentrations of cultural diversity and spoken languages of any region in the world. These sectorial links of a cultural nature have been crucial to the creation of free trade agreements and economic cooperation in the region, although they have sometimes been impediments to signing economic cooperation agreements or treaties at the regional or subregional level.

In the English-speaking Caribbean, there have been various important efforts to create common economic markets within the Caribbean island region, beginning with the creation of the West Indian Federation (WIF) in 1958. From that effort arose the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) in 1965 and, finally, the Caribbean Community (CC) and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). The CC currently includes 15 countries: 13 independent nations among the English-speaking islands, including the former British colonies (including Guyana), as well as Suriname and Haiti. Two British dependent territories are “associate members.” CARICOM also maintains cooperative ties with Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Today, there are also cases of subregional cooperation in the broader Caribbean, such as the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), which includes 28 countries and territories in Central and South America that border the Caribbean Sea, including Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela, as well as almost all of the sovereign islands of the Caribbean, and the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC), which includes all of the ACS members plus 7 dependent Caribbean island territories as “associate members.”

But without a doubt the most important impact on the Caribbean region in terms of creating free trade markets has been the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) between the United States and 24 countries in the Caribbean Basin, from 1983 to the present. The CBI created a free trade zone with preferential tariffs that were equal to those of Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and it has had a significant impact on the Caribbean region’s economy and development.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: March 20, 2012.

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