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Editorial | Mr Golding’s CARICOM mandate

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Unbound from the daily hurly-burly of competitive politics, Bruce Golding is, hopefully, also free of his party's historical reticence to the Caribbean integration project as he leads a review of Jamaica's place in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the reward and risks inherent thereto.

Our sense, judging from his posture during his tenure as head of government and, more recently, his postulations on the Caribbean Court of Justice, is that the former prime minister is now likely to be more amenable to the Community. In the event, Andrew Holness, Mr Golding's successor as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the recently installed prime minister, has attempted to change the JLP's narrative on CARICOM.

Mr Holness, it seems, no longer wants it to appear that the JLP's default response to regional initiatives is suspicion that it is an attempt at back-door federationism or for Jamaica to feel that is being deliberately hard-done because of its inability to compete in

CARICOM markets. Hence Mr Holness' remark at a factory opening last month that Jamaica was in CARICOM to stay, ready to fight for market share.

Equally significant was his declaration, in telling Parliament of Mr Golding's appointment, of the country's intention "to assert ourselves in such a way that Jamaica gets the full benefits that membership in CARICOM promises".

This suggests that the critical starting point of the Golding Commission - whose other members are yet to be named - is not extricating Jamaica from CARICOM, but to have it work to this country's benefit, even as Kingston explores and exploits opportunities in the non-CARICOM Caribbean. This is good sense.

 

Recommendation

 

In this regard, Mr Golding's starting recommendation is that Jamaica continue and accelerate its programme of fiscal and structural reform to develop a competitive economy. For as the analysis by Howard Mitchell (who ought to be a member of the review committee) for the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica demonstrates, whatever may be the impact of cheating by others, poor domestic economic policy, over a long time, has been just as bad for Jamaica.

Second, CARICOM has rules-based institutions with myriad mechanisms to address complaints. Merely whingeing about problems without filing specific complaints, with required documentation, to the appropriate organ, is a waste of time. Additionally, Jamaica's primary focus in CARICOM has been on visible trade, on which it runs a huge deficit. It pays insufficient attention to services - which it is harder to track - and in which it is likely to enjoy a comparative advantage.

All this, of course, does not obviate Kingston from taking a hard look at the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, through which CARICOM hoped to evolve to a single market and economy, to determine if and how it should be overhauled. That would be a medium-term undertaking. In it are fruits to be picked in the short term, including from CARICOM spin-offs - like the Community's free-trade agreements with Cuba and the Dominican Republic, for which there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

There are other points for Mr Golding to consider: the insulation that a group of 15 small states provide each other and how Kingston can leverage its position as the natural political leader of the Community to get things done. Its most critical partner in this regard is Trinidad and Tobago, CARICOM's strongest economy.