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Editorial: Jamaica’s CARICOM pivot

Published:Sunday | May 8, 2016 | 5:00 AM

For whatever else the Holness administration deserves plaudits, no policy issue has the Government, so far, approached more admirably than Jamaica's relations with its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), especially the contentious matter of trade with Trinidad and Tobago.

For most of the half-century since it engineered the collapse of the West Indies Federation, Prime Minister Andrew Holness' Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has maintained a studied ambivalence, but mostly a sense of grievance, towards the federation's successor institutions of economic cooperation - a narrative of Jamaica being hard done by its partners.

Mr Holness may have established a new tone for a regional engagement last month that reiterated Jamaica's stake in CARICOM and its intention to fight for a share of the regional market. But perhaps the most compelling public evidence of this shift came from his trade and commerce minister, Karl Samuda, in Parliament last week as legislators dissected the details of this year's Budget.

Mr Samuda has, in the past, said some tough things about CARICOM, like his 2012 description of Jamaica's membership in the Community as a "hallucination", when he urged the then administration to exit the regional bloc for Trinidad and Tobago's continued failure to supply Jamaica with LNG. Like many Jamaican manufacturers, even during his previous stint in government, Mr Samuda accused Trinidad and Tobago of cheating on its CARICOM obligations and appeared to support calls for a boycott of Trinidadian exports to Jamaica.

 

not of 'impetuous' action

 

But last week, against the backdrop of a conflation by some people of trade and immigration issues, and new calls for a boycott of Trinidadian goods, Mr Samuda declared himself to be minister not of "impetuous" action "that can run the risk of consequences we do not anticipate".

"This is a minister who believes in engaging the process, (in) engaging the regulations that govern the process," he told fellow legislators.

So, at a recent meeting of CARICOM's Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED), Mr Samuda disclosed that he had "explained" that Port-of-Spain could not "continue to subsidise its domestic economy" to the disadvantage of other partners who, under the Community's treaty, "should share our common resources".

It is not clear whether Jamaica has invoked Article 101 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas by filing a formal complaint with COTED, leading, first, to consultation between the two countries and, in the absence of a resolution, a full investigation by the ministerial council, in concert with articles 102 and 103. A complaint to COTED does not preclude Jamaica using other dispute-resolution mechanisms, including taking its issues to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which, acting in its original jurisdiction, is the arbiter of the treaty that governs CARICOM.

While we endorse this move by Jamaica to engage the process, it must be underpinned by specific, legally defined and clearly articulated arguments, rather than the usual anecdotes about Port-of-Spain's misbehaviour. In that regard, we expect that, in accordance with Article 101, Jamaica, in its complaint, has presented "the available evidence with regard to the existence and nature of the alleged prohibited subsidy".

If Jamaica's concern is Trinidad and Tobago's pricing of energy in its domestic economy, we suspect that Port-of-Spain will argue that it offers its producers preferential treatment over the rest of the economy and that it has no obligation to share that resource with CARICOM. Maybe Jamaica should ask the CCJ.