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Editorial: Changing Gear - Jamaica, T&T must direct CARICOM

Published:Thursday | April 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM
President Barack Obama, (center), and Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, (third from right), are joined by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders for a group photo during the start of their summit, last Thursday.

Jamaicans, the press included, gave little notice to other Caribbean leaders during Barack Obama's visit to the island last week. Their summit with the United States president was treated as a mere backdrop to that between Mr Obama and this country's prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller.

We expect, though, that the Jamaican authorities have a far more nuanced appreciation of Mr Obama's visit and its part in America's broader strategy in the Caribbean. Perchance we are correct, the urgent follow-up, if Kingston is to play this to its advantage, is for the Government to shift gear by restructuring Jamaica's relationship with its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in whose leadership Kingston must now visibly assume with Trinidad and Tobago.

Fanned especially by the Jamaica Labour Party, this country's approach to regional integration is sometimes tenuous, and mostly suspicious, especially with regard to Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica's presumed rival and the community's strongest economy. It doesn't help that Jamaica runs big trade deficits with CARICOM. Although down 20 per cent, that deficit last year was US$674.6 million, or seven and a half times Jamaica's exports to the community. Trinidad and Tobago is the major beneficiary of this imbalance.




When the People's National Party is in office, Jamaica's relationship with CARICOM is less stressed. But with P.J. Patterson's retirement nearly a decade ago, there is in that party no real champion for CARICOM. Discourse on regionalism in Jamaica is informed by gut perceptions rather than policy logic and supposed cheating by Trinidad and Tobago in trade in the single market.

But there is a broader context to CARICOM, against which President Obama's visit is to be assessed. Indeed, his presence was good optics for the Government, an opportunity for the president to signal endorsement of Jamaica's adherence to its International Monetary Fund agreement and Washington's consensus policies. But, more broadly, Jamaica was the venue - over which presidential advisers might have haggled - from which America could commit to CARICOM, adumbrate its policies and programmes for the region, and push back complaints of Mr Obama's disengagement from it.

Importantly, while America pursues its bilateral relationship with Jamaica and respects its influence in many spheres, Washington increasingly prefers to act, with regard to the Caribbean, on a regional level. Its recent energy and security initiatives are cases in point, as have been approaches to trade regimes. Indeed, it is fashion that the European Union, starting with the LomÈ Accords and now the Economic Partnership Agreement, has long followed. The Canadians are following suit.

The point is that CARICOM, with its 14 votes at the United Nations, is more than a trade bloc. It is perceived by international partners as a political movement that, though yet without an economic breakthrough, has functional cooperation arrangements that work and is of global value. It is this newspaper's view that CARICOM can work better and deliver more if given sustained direction, support and leadership.

Jamaica, as the Americans and others see this country, is its political leader and Trinidad and Tobago is economic. In that regard, and notwithstanding the reviews being done of the community, Kingston and Port-of-Spain, as France and Germany did for the European Union, should get together and articulate a vision of, and lead the drive towards what they want CARICOM to be, and how it should function. Jamaica's prime minister should initiate this project - immediately after they vote in Trinidad.