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Editorial: Trade boycott folly

Published:Tuesday | April 5, 2016 | 4:01 AM

William Mahfood has sensibly walked back from his call for a trade boycott of Trinidad and Tobago, but we don't believe that the "clarification" of his sentiments suggests a sufficiently thoughtful response to what is perhaps a real problem by an important and influential leader of the private sector.

According to the president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), his earlier demand to "cut off access to their goods" did not mean to a total closure of the Jamaican market to Trinidadian products, but a temporary ban on some goods until Trinidad and Tobago meets its obligations of fair treatment to Jamaicans travelling to that country.

Mr Mahfood's suggestion was in the wake of the latest complaint by Jamaicans denied entry into Trinidad and Tobago - ostensibly on the grounds that the immigration officials deemed they be a charge on the public purse - and that they were allegedly treated less than humanely by the authorities.

 

Caribbean countries

 

After several years of similar accusations of unfair treatment against Jamaicans in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as other Caribbean countries, it seems to this newspaper that among the matters at play in this ongoing controversy is a class bias. Each year, thousands of Jamaicans travel to Trinidad and Tobago for business and their carnival celebrations, mostly without problems. It is another perceived class of Jamaicans, profiled by dress, accents and, sometimes, the hue of their skin, who are at greater risk of what is argued to be unfair treatment. They are of the class which Trinidadian, and other Caribbean, immigration officials, presume won't be able to finance their stay; or are intent on overstaying their time, working illegally, and, maybe, engaging in crime.

Overcoming bias or unfair treatment is not best accomplished by emotive or tit-for-tat responses, especially when there are rules-based regimes, such as exist in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are members and therefore are legally committed to respect. Indeed, CARICOM has a class of skilled citizens who, upon appropriate registration, are allowed the right of employment within the Community with the need for work permits.

But, more critically, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which has original jurisdiction in interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that establishes the rules by which the Community works, set out in the Shanique Myrie case the minimum standards, including the behaviour of immigration officials, to be expected by regional citizens when they travel within CARICOM.

Indeed, these rights, on the basis of the Myrie case, are now established, and justifiable, regional law, the breach of which entitles the victims to compensation. In the event, any Jamaican citizens who believes he or she was unfairly and illegally treated by Trinidadian authorities have recourse to the courts.

The decision of individuals notwithstanding, we believe that rather than emotive jousting in trade, with uncertain economic outcomes, direct political engagement, first at the ministerial level, should be the starting point for the Jamaican Government. Moreover, with Jamaica as CARICOM's political leader and Trinidad and Tobago as its strongest economy, this impasse, should be used for a broader engagement between the leaders of the two countries to, as we have urged in the past, a reset of CARICOM.