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Global trade winds push Caribbean unity

Enthusiasts for a Caribbean free trade zone see an opportunity to boost the region's economies. Sceptics recognize the value of this goal but point to many obstacles in the way of greater integration. Leticia Lozano reports.

WHILE THE WORLD watches the latest convulsion in Haiti, attention has been diverted away from a more promising development underway across the Caribbean economies. They could in less than two years make the biggest leap in their history with the implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The CSME is a free trade zone comprising 14 million people that aims to give the region a chance to develop its manufacturing and service industries, which today play second fiddle to tourism.

"It will make the entire region more attractive for foreign investors because it will be easier to move across the countries to do business and the whole process of investment should become a lot less hassle," says Trevor Blake, director of finance and enterprise development at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB).

A unified market should benefit all 14 members, including the smallest economies. Barbados, for example, has a GDP of $5 billion but Grenada's is a tiny $440 million. "A lot of the economies are very small and don't have the kind of economic skill they need to compete in a new kind of global environment at the moment," says Richard Francis, credit analyst at Standard and Poor's.

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