Editorial | Mr Seaga’s perverse conclusion
Edward Seaga, who, in the 1980s, served for eight years as Jamaica's prime minister, has seemingly perfected the skill of pursuing unimpeachable logic to a perverse conclusion. He put it on display at the weekend as part of a discussion of what ought to be Jamaica's place in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Mr Seaga's conclusion is that Jamaica is a "misfit" in the community and therefore "should play a selected role, like The Bahamas, in CARICOM". Although it is a full member of the 15-member community, participating in its political and functional cooperation arrangements, The Bahamas does not subscribe to the arrangements by which CARICOM expects to transform itself into a genuine single market and economy.
The observation/recommendation is important on several fronts; it didn't happen in isolation. Obviously, Mr Seaga hopes to influence the task force, chaired by another former prime minister, Bruce Golding, which has been asked by the country's current leader, Andrew Holness, to examine what benefits Jamaica has derived from its 43-year membership of CARICOM and what value it might extract in the future. Moreover, perhaps induced by Jamaica's example, the leaders of CARICOM have commissioned their own review of the performance of the single market and economy.
Further, Messrs Golding and Holness, personal evolution notwithstanding, were proteges of Edward Seaga, their immediate predecessor in the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), of which he remains something of an intellectual patron and ideologue, especially of the party's residual suspicion of Caribbean integration and matters, particularly, of an economic nature, related thereto.
That suspicion finds fertile ground in the near US$800-million trade deficit that Jamaica runs with CARICOM, which essentially means Trinidad and Tobago, which in turn helps to fuel the argument that Port of Spain cheats on its obligations to its CARICOM partners. It may be fact that Trinidad and Tobago does not play by the rules. Unfortunately, such accusations are not proved by anecdotes, but rather tangible complaints that are tested in the appropriate dispute-resolution mechanisms.
Mr Seaga acknowledges that the basis of Jamaica's issue with CARICOM is that deficit and concludes that, except for oil which other members except for Trinidad and Tobago don't export, market preference "is largely driven by competitive pricing". And he agrees that in Jamaica's case it has lagged on two fundamental bases - "Inadequate skills and macroeconomic instability".
Further, he identifies the almost inevitable consequences of this double whammy, noting that between 1973 and 2007 "labour productivity per Jamaican worker declined at an annual rate of 1.3 per cent".
Says Mr Seaga: "Jamaica is at a grave disadvantage in the regional setting. The education system is not geared to lifting productivity and improving competitiveness in the marketing of Jamaican goods and services and from the lack of priority the sector is receiving this condition will likely continue to prevail."
If Jamaica is at a disadvantage among 15 mostly low, middle-income developing economies, which themselves face education and productivity problems, we wonder what would be its state against the global economic titans. A retreat from CARICOM would hardly, in the circumstance, translate to an improvement in Jamaica's trade deficit of nearly J$4 billion.
The answer to Jamaica's problem in CARICOM, and its competitiveness generally, rests, primarily, in fixing the economy along the lines on which the country has been focused over the past five years.