Established in 1958, the West Indies Federation comprised the ten territories of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, the then St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago. The Federation was established by the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956 with the aim of establishing a political union among its members.
During its brief existence (1958-62), a number of fundamental issues were debated with a view to strengthening the Federation. Among these were direct taxation by the Federal Government, central planning for development, the establishment of a Regional Customs Union and the reform of the Federal Constitution. The issue of direct taxation was particularly controversial.
The Federation began quickly to seek to establish federal institutions and supporting structures. It created a federal civil service; established the West Indies Shipping Service (in 1962) to operate two multipurpose ships – the Federal Maple and the Federal Palm – donated to it by the Government of Canada. It had embarked also on negotiations to acquire the subsidiary of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), namely British West Indies Airways (BWIA).
Cooperation in tertiary education was consolidated and expanded during this period. The then University College of the West Indies (UCWI), which was established in 1948 with one campus at Mona, Jamaica, opened its second campus at St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1960.
The Federation however faced several problems. These included, the governance and administrative structures imposed by the British; disagreements among the territories over policies, particularly with respect to taxation and central planning; unwillingness on the part of most Territorial Governments to give up power to the Federal Government; and the location of the Federal Capital.