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Editorial: Mr Holness’ refreshing take on CARICOM

Published:Sunday | May 1, 2016 | 5:00 AM

There is need for further and better particulars from Prime Minister Andrew Holness about his proposed commission to assess Jamaica's role in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). But based on his remarks last week on the matter, this newspaper is encouraged.

We sense that we may have more to look forward to than the intellectual laziness with which the Jamaican business and political elite, including Mr Holness' party, often approach public discourse on CARICOM. Increasingly, there have been calls for a boycott on imports from Trinidad and Tobago, with which Jamaica runs a deficit of more than half a billion US dollars on visible trade.

Mr Holness, though, was refreshingly positive at the inauguration of a J$285-million upgrade of a biscuit factory owned by the Seprod Group. He said: "We are a common market ... . Our entrepreneurs need to consider the Trinidad market, the Guyana market, as our market. And we are going to stay in the common market because it is ours."

The prime minister, of course, is a little astray with respect to nomenclature and concept. For CARICOM has advanced a bit beyond the ideals of a common market; it hopes to transition itself into a single market and economy. We, nonetheless, get the essence of Mr Holness' point, while awaiting the specific direction of his commission.

Jamaica's attitude towards the regional integration movement is peculiarly ambivalent, and often hostile, and has largely been that way since the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which Mr Holness now leads, more than a half a century ago campaigned for this country's withdrawal from the West Indies Federation, leading to its collapse.

Even though its administrations are sometimes in the thick of planning integration initiatives, the JLP is still often suspicious of the process as an attempt, as Edward Seaga, a former prime minister and JLP leader, put it, of "federation through the back door".

 

A WEAK JAMAICA

 

It is has not helped that the regional bloc has largely failed to make big economic breakthroughs. And Jamaica's economy has been among the worst of the region's laggards. Burdened by four decades of bad economic policies, it has delivered anaemic growth. Trinidad and Tobago, with its energy reserves, and according to critics, subsidies to its industries, has emerged as the Community's economic power - exemplified by that trade surplus with Jamaica.

Beyond the matter of energy, Jamaican officials and business leaders also claim that Trinidad and Tobago fudges on the rule of origin and that it erects non-tariff barriers to this country's exports. Relations are further complicated by a feeling in Jamaica that many of its citizens who travel within CARICOM are often treated unfairly, and outside emerging Community law, by regional immigration officials.

The specifically economic complaints, including the question of the pricing of energy, have not been tested in the organs of CARICOM, including the Caribbean Court of Justice - acting in its original jurisdiction as arbiter of the treaty under which the Community exists and operates - where such disputes are to be resolved.

Moreover, analyses of Jamaica's trade with CARICOM usually focus on the visible element of trade, but pays scant attention to trade in services, where this country may well enjoy comparative advantage and its performance be undercounted.

We agree with Mr Holness that "a weak Jamaica does not make for a strong CARICOM". Nor does a whingeing one. That's why we like the prime minister's fighting words about Jamaica's intention to compete in the Community.