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The House of Assembly's decision to support Government's bid for associate membership of the Caricom is as unsurprising as it is wrong-headed.

The Government essentially made three arguments in favour of membership:

It strengthens Bermuda's historic and cultural ties with the Caribbean;


The House of Assembly's decision to support Government's bid for associate membership of the Caricom is as unsurprising as it is wrong-headed.

The Government essentially made three arguments in favour of membership:

It strengthens Bermuda's historic and cultural ties with the Caribbean;

Associate membership commits Bermuda to little while giving it the ability to take from the best of the Caribbean; and

As regional organisations like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European Union gain numbers and strength, Bermuda can no longer afford to stand alone.

No one disputes the strong links that Bermuda and Bermudians have with different Caribbean islands. No one has ever been prevented from enjoying them and there are long established links between unions, businesses, cultural organisations and the like.

By the same token, Bermuda has strong links with Britain, Canada, the United States and Portugal to name a few. It is true that more black Bermudians have links with the Caribbean than whites, and the reverse generally holds true for Britain and so on. But Bermuda is a multi-cultural society and it is debatable whether the Island, apart from its constitutional links with Britain, benefits by formalising ties with another trade and political grouping.

It is also questionable whether the social and cultural benefits that will accrue to Bermuda as a result of associate membership will really be as spectacular as promised.

It has also been argued that Bermuda can give the benefit of its experience to less developed and successful countries in the Caribbean. This is generous and altruistic, but how wise it is as a matter of national policy is quite another thing. Throughout its history and most especially in the last century, Bermuda has lived by its wits and its ability to innovate, first in tourism and later in international business. It would seem foolish for Bermuda to "donate" its hard-earned knowledge to potential competitors.

But can Bermuda continue to steer its own course in this increasingly regionalised world, especially given the increasing pressure being exerted on it by the US and other organisations over its tax and regulatory structure?

The answer is that no one really knows. To some degree, Bermuda may thrive as the "Switzerland of the Atlantic", a phrase which has been well used by Attorney General Dame Lois Browne Evans.

Then too, Bermuda can use its links with the UK, with other British overseas territories or with multinational organisations formed to deal with specific industries or problems as it sees fit, without committing to any one organisation in particular.

But if that is not seen as an option, then with whom should Bermuda join forces?

Caricom comes a distant last to almost every other organisation of this kind in terms of size, influence and achievement.

Caricom leaders have failed to achieve any of their stated goals in terms of a common foreign policy or a common market, and the opt-out clause being touted for Bermuda means that it never will.

Its negotiations with other regional organisations have routinely failed on everything from banana exports to Europe, to sugar to financial services.

Bermuda successfully negotiated its tax position with the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the like on its own. In doing so, it successfully delineated itself from Caribbean domiciles ranging from the fairly respectable, like the Cayman Islands, to the most disreputable like Antigua and Nevis.

Whether Bermuda will be able to do that as an associate member of Caricom remains to be seen.

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