CARICOM Protocol on Contingent Rights: An important Step to CSME Consolidation
The Government of Barbados has recently announced a Bill entitled the Caribbean Community (Amendment) Bill 2019, which, when passed, would amend the principal Act to give effect to the CARICOM Protocol on Contingent Rights, making it part of Barbadian law.
Barbados, along with six other CARICOM Member States, had signed the Protocol during the 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government in Montego Bay Jamaica in July 2018.
Following the recently held 30th Inter-sessional Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government in St. Kitts & Nevis, it has been reported that all CSME participating Member States have now signed the Protocol. But what is the Protocol about and why is it necessary for the consolidation of the CSME?
What is the Protocol on Contingent Rights and Why is it Necessary?
The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas confers a number of rights to Community Nationals, including the right of establishment, the right to provide services, the free movement of capital and of skilled Community Nationals to seek employment in other CSME participating Member States. However, it was recognised by Member States that despite these rights (called ‘primary rights’) being conferred, additional enforceable rights (or ‘contingent rights’) were needed to ensure that Community Nationals could enjoy them effectively and without frustration.
For example, there was concern by CARICOM nationals who were working in other jurisdictions about their inability to access social services on the same basis of nationals of the host country, the inability of their spouses to also legally seek employment, and for their children to access primary education on the same basis as the children of nationals of the host country. These barriers frustrate the exercise of the rights conferred in the Revised Treaty.
The Protocol, which was a long time in the making, confers certain enforceable social and economic rights to Community Nationals and their immediate families who make use of the right of establishment, the right to provide services, the right to move capital and the free movement of skilled labour under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. As such, the Protocol is not only a starting point for addressing some of the issues currently faced by Community Nationals seeking to exercise these rights effectively, but is, therefore, an important step towards the consolidation of the CSME.
Rights guaranteed under the Protocol
The framers of the Protocol define ‘contingent rights’ as “rights to which a national and his or her spouse and immediate dependents are entitled, contingent on the exercise by the principal beneficiary of the right of establishment, provision of services, movement of capital or free movement of skills”.
Subject to certain exceptions, the contingent rights currently guaranteed under the Protocol are:
- the right of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country, his or her spouse or their dependants to transfer capital into and from a host country subject to Article 43 of the Treaty, which speaks to restrictions to safeguard balance of payments;
- the right of a spouse or dependants of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to leave and re-enter a host country;
- the right of the spouse of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to work in a host country without a work permit;
- the right of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country and his or her spouse to access on a non-discriminatory basis lands, buildings and other property for residential or business purposes reasonably connected with the exercise of the rights of the principal beneficiary;
- the right of dependent children of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to access primary education on a nondiscriminatory basis, where and to the extent provided by the Government of the host country;
- the right of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to import into the host country free of duties within six months of being granted a stay, subject to the principal beneficiary having already satisfied the duty regime in another Member State, tools of trade that are (i) reasonably connected with the exercise of any of the
primary rights of the principal beneficiary; (ii) in the possession of the principal beneficiary in the exercise of any of those primary rights; and (iii) located in a Member State.
These are a minimum standard and as such, Article IV of the Protocol specifically notes that Member States are not precluded from granting greater rights once not done in a discriminatory manner in contravention of the non-discrimination principle (Article 7) and more specifically, the Most Favoured Nation principle (Article 8) of the Revised Treaty respectively. It should be noted that consistent with a phased approach, the Barbados Bill adopts the Protocol as is and does not grant any greater rights.
Who may qualify for these rights?
The Protocol defines a ‘principal beneficiary’ as a national of a Member State exercising one or more primary rights, that is, rights pursuant to the Treaty in relation to the operation of the CSME and described in Articles 32, 34, 36, 40 and 46 of the Treaty, which deal with right of establishment, right to provide services, the movement of capital and free movement of skilled community nationals respectively.
For example, under the free movement of skilled nationals regime, ten categories of wage earners may move and work freely within CSME participating Member States without having to seek a work permit in the jurisdiction in which they seek to work and once they hold a CARICOM Skills Certificate (formally known as the CARICOM Certificate of Recognition of Skills Qualification).
The five original categories under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas were: University graduates, artistes, musicians, sportspersons, media workers. These were later expanded to include five additional categories: nurses, teachers, artisans with a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ), holders of Associates Degrees or comparable qualification and Household Domestics with a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) or equivalent qualification. These eligible categories will soon include others, namely, agricultural workers, barbers, security guards and beauticians.
All other Community nationals need to apply for work permits in order to seek employment in another CSME jurisdiction.
Spouses and Dependents
With a nod to inclusiveness, the framers of the Protocol adopted a broad definition of ‘dependent’ to include any unmarried child of a principal beneficiary or of his or her spouse provided that such child is under the age of 18 years, under the age of 25 years attending school or university full time or over the age of 18 years who is disabled and dependent on the principal beneficiary. However, the definition of ‘spouse’ is still restricted to heterosexual relationships either via marriage, or via common-law unions to the extent that such unions are recognized by the laws of the host country.
Built-in agenda and monitoring
The issue of contingent rights has been a sensitive one as not all CARICOM Member States offer their own nationals the same level of social benefits. There are legitimate fears that there may be undue burdens placed on those States with more generous social welfare programmes, such as free education and free health care, as well as concerns about the potential for abuse of these programs.
One way the framers of the Protocol appear to seek to address this concern is by allowing for a phased approach through a built-in agenda (Article III). It enumerates a list of potential more extensive rights to be adopted by Member States on a phased approach subject to agreement. It also provides for monitoring and review. Additionally, temporary service providers are not entitled to contingent rights and safeguard measures in Article 47 apply to the Protocol mutatis mutandis.
Moving from paper to practice
CARICOM Member States are dualist States, that is, even after a treaty is signed by a Member State, it needs to be translated into domestic law in order for the treaty obligations to be binding on the State domestically. Therefore, the rights under the Protocol can only be enjoyed, and the State bound to provide these rights, once they have been translated into domestic law through an Act of Parliament.
- Domestic Ratification Needed by all signatories – For the Protocol to enter into force, it must be signed and then ratified by all parties to the Revised Treaty, which will not be an easy task. The Protocol, however, may be provisionally applied once seven or more of the Parties to the Protocol declare their intention to apply the Protocol provisionally before the Protocol enters into force.The next step is to ensure the Protocol is brought into force as soon as possible, thereby ensuring it is parlayed from mere ink on paper. On this front, it is commendable that Barbados, which has lead responsibility for the CSME in CARICOM’s quasi cabinet, is leading by example through its commencement of the ratification process.
- Procedures for implementation and monitoring – Procedures and systems must be put in place domestically and regionally to allow for implementation and monitoring of the Protocol’s operation to ensure Member States are honouring their commitments and to ascertain any problems. Data collection will be key.
- Training – Guidance, as well as further training of staff members of agencies which are tasked with implementation and monitoring, may be necessary.
- Public Awareness Campaign – As evidenced by the misinformation which was circulated on social media after the Bill was announced in Barbados, it is evident that a public awareness campaign is needed not only to educate CARICOM citizens about the rights contained in the Protocol and how they as nationals may benefit, but to help assuage concerns and fears about the Protocol’s intentions and implications.
The very timely Golding Commission Report, which had examined Jamaica’s relations within CARICOM and CARIFORUM, had spoken of the CSME implementation deficit and challenged regional leaders to chart a way forward. Having this Protocol enter into force would not only facilitate greater movement, but also be a much-needed injection of confidence to show the region’s populace that the CSME is not moribund. On this note, Barbados’ initiative to begin the ratification process is certainly a commendable one, and it is hoped that other CARICOM countries will swiftly follow suit.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.