Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Editorial: CARICOM ripe for Jamaica-T&T alliance

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Trinidadians may now be too distracted campaigning for their general election, due next month. But immediately after that vote, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should immediately engage that country's new PM, whether it is the incumbent, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, or the current opposition leader, Keith Rowley, about a reset and rejuvenation of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). That is a potentially significant legacy of United States President Barack Obama's recent visit to Jamaica.

They haven't said so publicly, but among the things that Mr Obama intended to signal by his trip to Kingston was America's presumption of Jamaica's natural political leadership of CARICOM, which the Simpson Miller administration has allowed to drift, but must now reassert.

Trinidad and Tobago, with its oil and gas and relatively strong manufacturing base, is, economically, CARICOM's most influential member.

Further, the visit was an opportunity for the Americans to continue to assert their preference for dealing with CARICOM as a group, rather than, once it can be avoided, engaging in a series of bilateral arrangements with 14 largely mini-states. The European Union (EU) has long had that posture, which is being increasingly adopted by Canada and other developed countries which the Caribbean engages in political and economic relations.

The upshot is that CARICOM has to think seriously about how it conducts its own affairs, if it is to better coordinate policy in order to pursue common interests and extract greatest value from its relations with countries like the United States.

 

FOCUS NOT WIDE ENOUGH

 

Unfortunately, the focus in the Community has been almost exclusively on CARICOM's role as an economic entity and, therefore, the perceived failing of its single market to propel trade and investment and to generate growth. Nowhere is this approach to CARICOM stronger than in Jamaica, whose big trade deficits with its partners fuel a perception that the Community has not worked in this country's favour. Indeed, these issues and CARICOM's weak governance systems have long been analysed and debated, which form the basis of an ongoing project to reform its secretariat.

Yet, underperformance and other weaknesses in the single-market arrangements notwithstanding, we believe the discourse in Jamaica too often discounts its domestic economic sloth for its failures in the Community. It ignores, too, the functional cooperation systems that work well. CARICOM has not evolved sufficiently with the times into a kind of entrepreneurial entity to better insulate itself in a tough global environment and to quickly grasp opportunities that arise.

With a sovereign authority residing in individual capitals and little authority at the centre, its decision-making is often slow and cumbersome. At times, the Community appears rudderless. But with 14 votes at the United Nations, and an influential voice like Jamaica among them, a coordinated, energised CARICOM won't be summarily dismissed or ignored in geopolitical calculations.

In the absence of a strong centre, clear and strong leadership of the Community is critical. That is where the logic of a Jamaica-Trinidad and Tobago partnership on CARICOM is unassailable, in the fashion of how the Franco-German alliance for over six decades shaped the emergency of the EU. A Simpson Miller/Persad-Bissessar, or a Simpson Miller-Rowley, alliance could be for CARICOM what, say, the Helmut Schmidt-Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Helmut Kohl-François Mitterand, or a Gerhard Schröder-François Mitterand, alliances were for Europe.