Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Editorial | Why Rowley should delay his visit

Published:Monday | June 13, 2016 | 6:00 AM

We welcome the urgency and seriousness with which Kingston and Port-of-Spain are going about their long-simmering, but often ill-defined disputes. Keith Rowley, the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, says he plans to speak "directly to the Jamaican people" on the issues during an official visit to this island.

We like Mr Rowley's intent. For, among problems faced by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) - the regional single market grouping of which Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are members - is the sense of distance, and absence of engagement, between its leaders and people of its constituent parts. So, perceptions of the integration project tend to be shaped by domestic perspectives, often defined by what these say about the community's presumed failings, usually without appreciation of other people's realities.

But while we look forward to seeing and hearing Mr Rowley in Jamaica, we, perhaps paradoxically, would suggest that he be encouraged not to rush his visit, allowing Kingston time to complete critical bits of preparation if the trip is to deliver on its potential value to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and ultimately, CARICOM. We refer, specifically, to the review of Jamaica's participation in CARICOM that the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has assigned a task force to be led by one his predecessors, Bruce Golding.

The immediate source of the tension between Kingston and Port-of-Spain is a perception by Jamaica that its nationals are treated unfairly, and with disrespect, when they travel to Trinidad and Tobago and other CARICOM states, contrary to treaty obligations as well as community law as established by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which interprets the treaty under which CARICOM operates. The problem relating to free movement within the community, insofar as it exists, largely requires administrative fixes, on which Messrs Holness and Rowley need not expend the capital of an official visit and a summit. If Jamaica believes the Trinidadians are being deliberately discriminatory, Kingston might consider establishing a revolving fund to be tapped by those of its nationals, with credible claims of unfair treatment, to finance taking their cases to the CCJ.

 

FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM

 

Jamaica's deeper and more fundamental problem with CARICOM, however, is the sense that it has not been done well by the community and its belief that is regional partners, especially Trinidad and Tobago, mostly flouts the rules. Jamaican businesses claim that their Trinidadian counterparts routinely breach CARICOM's rules of origin; accuse Port-of-Spain of giving its firms illegal subsidies, especially cheap energy; and instituting non-tariff barriers against Jamaican products. They unfortunately, however, do not usually follow these accusations with formal complaints and supporting evidence.

But with Mr Holness, in contrast to his party's previous ambivalence to CARICOM, insisting that Jamaica was in CARICOM to stay and compete, Mr Golding's task force will hopefully determine what weight to give to these complaints, as well as the contribution of past economic policies to Jamaica's uncompetitiveness. It might also begin a conversation on how a single market manages a critical resource such as energy. Importantly, too, Jamaica, as CARICOM's political leader and biggest importer, and Trinidad and Tobago, with its economic strength, are the natural engines to drive growth, as Germany and France have been to the European Union. Messrs Holness and Rowley have an opportunity to embrace that role. Mr Golding's report should provide Mr Holness with a starting point for the dialogue.