Six nations - Jamaica, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago - became the first full members of the Caribbean Single Market Economy as the treaty went into effect on 1 January. Other nations were expected to join later.
Owen Arthur, the prime minister of Barbados, is one of the strongest advocates of a trade accord that supporters say will make the Caribbean nations more competitive in an era of free trade. "To put together a single market and economy is a historic thing," he said.
Edwin Carrington, secretary-general of the 15-member Caribbean Community, said the agreement is "an important psychological and political step for this region" even though less than half the community's membership was ready to enter the trade accord by 1 January.
Another six nations of the 15-member Caribbean Community will join the single economy by the end of March, Patrick Manning, Trinidad's prime minister, said on Monday.
The British territory of Montserrat, which is also a member of the Caribbean Community, is seeking permission from the United Kingdom to become a part of the single market.
"This really gives the business community something to aim for. It is a huge market available to us"
David Lord, Carribean Community Secretariat
Haiti has been suspended from the Caribbean Community because of its political turmoil and will not join the market, while the Bahamas will not join because of local opposition to a provision that allows skilled workers to move more easily among nations.
Under the trade accord, tariffs will be eliminated among participating members and all citizens can open businesses, provide services and move capital throughout the region without restrictions. The governments are to replace national travel documents with a regional passport by 2007.
Member nations will have access to bilateral free-trade agreements that the Caribbean Community has already made with Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
David Lord, a single market expert with the Guyana-based Caribbean Community Secretariat, said: "This really gives the business community something to aim for. It is a huge market available to us."
Caribbean prime ministers will officially inaugurate the single trading market at a ceremony in Kingston, Jamaica, on 23 January.