Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial | Putting wheels on the CARICOM task force

Published:Thursday | June 30, 2016 | 6:00 AM

There something messy about publicly launching a body, whose members are charged with a task of national importance, to be completed within a specific time without its constituents knowing who its members are - except for its chairman. Which it what has happened with Prime Minister Andrew Holness' review task force on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

It, ostensibly, had its formal launch at Jamaica House on Tuesday and will have its first full meeting at the foreign ministry on July 5. But the only member to be seen so far in public is Bruce Golding, the former prime minister, whose chairmanship Mr Holness announced nearly a month ago. We take at their word Jamaica House's declaration that that task force will be, or is, made up from a "wide cross-section" of interests, including the private sector, academia, finance and trade unions, which we interpret to mean the group will be inclined to rigorous analyses and studious debates rather than being prisoners of intellectual laziness that too often passes for discourse of CARICOM's relevance to, or the value of Jamaica's participation in, the Community.

In that regard, we give the task force, as Mr Golding, the benefit of the doubt that the process of their formal launch was an aberration rather than being indicative of the approach to their work and the outcome thereof. Three factors strengthen our confidence in this respect.

First, whatever criticisms there may be of Mr Golding's political judgement or past assessments of CARICOM, there is no doubt that he is of keen intellect and, in the context of an intellectual exercise, be led by the facts. Further, the task force will be based at, and have the support of Jamaica's foreign ministry, where resides some of Jamaica's most competent public servants, with a clear grasp of CARICOM and its operational mechanisms.

But perhaps more important was Mr Holness' reiteration on Tuesday that his establishment of the task force was not about Jaxit - of Jamaica extricating itself from CARICOM, as some in the business and political establishment, including, once, his current trade minister, Karl Sumuda, have proposed.

"We cannot preempt what the commission will say, but it was never the intention to lay any groundwork or chart any path out of CARICOM," Mr Holness said. "This is about strengthening Jamaica's position within the regional integration process, which is absolutely important for Jamaica's economic growth and development for the next 50 years."

 

REALISTIC ANALYSIS

 

Mr Golding's team, therefore, will have to widen its deliberations beyond the fixation on Trinidad and Tobago, and its supposed use of Jamaica as some ATM, from which it sucks cash in payment for the goods it sends here. There has to be a realistic analysis of why Jamaica has failed, over many decades, to be uncompetitive in CARICOM and other markets, how domestic economic policies and weak business management may have contributed to this, and (how) Jamaicans has failed to make advances in services where it perhaps has comparative advantage. It would help, too, if the analyses also avert to markets such as Haiti, Suriname and Belize of whose CARICOM membership engaged in economic activity and policy making appear to be ignorant.

Having cleared these initial hurdles, Mr Golding's group will establish the basis of a wider analysis of CARICOM and how it is to be shaped to enhance its relevance to the 21st century. As the UK's move to exit from the European Union is showing, not too many people are enamoured with fragmentation.