The deterioration of the developing countries' economic circumstances early in the 1980s, and which has resulted in marked slowdown in their economic and social development, has also had an impact on the progress of economic cooperation amongst them (following the spectacular achievements of the 1970-1980 period). Whilst economic integration and cooperation essentially provide instruments for fostering economic growth and development, in the past decade virtually all countries rather turned all their attention to crisis management and short-term remedies. This was largely because the scale of the the problems deriving from the debt crisis and the decay in export earnings exceeded by far the scope for subregional action.
In most regional groupings, the majority of member States faced substantial debt and balance-of-payments problems stemming from their overall foreign economic relations, while on the other hand the subregional integration and cooperation mechanisms were not equipped to tackle such problems. In developing countries, where external finance and payment support were the primary constraint, joint venture investment programmes or joint production schemes in industry or agriculture within regional groupings faced the utmost difficulty in being implemented. Where action continued at all, emphasis was put on rescuing and rationalizing existing industries rather than on new investment.
All but one of the member countries of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), all the Andean Group countries three out of the five Central American countries, four of the seven West African Economic Community (CEAO) member states and 10 out of the 16 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries, and four of the six Central African Customs and Economic Union (UDEAC) countries have been subject to debt rescheduling since the beginning of the 1980s. These countries accounted for one-half of total group imports from the world in 1985, an excessive amount considering their endogenous potential to produce such products and commodities themselves.
[Small island developing states] Although small island countries could benefit considerably from the strength and influence which a political union would afford, they find it difficult to carry out. In any group of islands, there are one or a few which are somewhat better off or larger. They fear the possibility of taking on problems of smaller territories which they might not have on their own. For all parties, national interest must be very strong to survive as an entity at all. And yet this same national interest blocks the idea of union with others, even be it a limited one. Finally, small island politicians and populaces are accustomed to a level of personalism in their dialogue that union with outside territories cannot permit.