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Editorial: Jamaica’s CARICOM whine

Published:Tuesday | June 9, 2015 | 6:00 AM

There is a saying about chewing gum and being able, at the same time, to walk a straight line. That, even for the most distracted and ill-coordinated, ought not to be overly difficult.

Extracting greater value for members from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) while its conceptualisers fashion and implement initiatives to enhance its effectiveness is clearly harder than accomplishing the gum-straight line challenge. But one doesn't have to be suspended to do the other, as has been shown by the Europeans and is now in motion by the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

That is why this newspaper does not accept former prime minister Bruce Golding's apparent thesis that CARICOM cannot deliver on any of its economic promises until the region resolves the issue of its political structure - which he casts as putting to rest any idea of a federation - and to establish an objective and pragmatic (presumably limited) set of principles for the Community.

We accept that CARICOM, a group of 15 sovereign countries that are intended to transform themselves into a single market and economy, has been constrained by a governance structure that leaves implementing authority to the constituents, with little or no power at the centre. But CARICOM's primary weakness, we insist, has been the ambivalence to regionalism of one of its two critical poles - Jamaica - a problem exacerbated by this country's long-running economic crisis.

Mr Golding, to be fair, concedes that Jamaica is better off dealing with the rest of the world in an organisation like CARICOM, which places him on largely uncharted territory for a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) politician, whose wariness of regionalism, fearing its results in a "back-door federation", added political uncertainty to CARICOM.

CARICOM has always been a treaty-based organisation, requiring the unanimous approval of all its members to change, the political aspirations of some notwithstanding. Further, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, even as it contemplates a move to a single market, with highly coordinated fiscal policies, recognises the transitional nature of this arrangement. But it has front-loaded enough for the Community's single-market elements for those members that do the right things to make gains.

That Jamaica has not done well is, in large part, because of the failure of its domestic economic policies and/or its propensity to raise anecdotal complaints about the misbehaviour of its regional partners rather than properly engaging CARICOM's dispute-resolution mechanisms.

It is to be noted also that the European Union was extracting value from its community before the governance refinement of Maastricht and whatever may be contemplated post the Eurozone crisis. ASEAN, with very similar, and perhaps weaker, governance arrangements to CARICOM, is moving to transform itself into a CARICOM-type single market, with the free movement of capital and skilled labour.

Jamaica has two things to do to derive greater benefits from CARICOM. The first is to continue to fix its economy, making it competitive. The other is to leverage its position as the political leader of CARICOM, working with Trinidad & Tobago to ascertain and drive the Community's direction. That was the way the European Union, with its critical poles, Germany and France, starting with Adenauer and de Gaulle, through to Brandt and Pompidou, Schmidt and Giscard d'Estaing, Kohl and Mitterand, Schroder and Chirac, and Merkel and Sarkorzy/Hollande. In similar fashion, Jamaica's Simpson Miller must engage whoever leads in Trinidad & Tobago.