Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Editorial | A Rowley-Holness tango?

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2016 | 7:00 AM

Neither Andrew Holness nor Keith Rowley took seriously our ironic suggestion that the latter delay his official visit to Jamaica until Mr Holness' CARICOM review commission completed its work and Kingston had something concrete - or otherwise - with which to confront the Trinidad and Tobago leader about his republic's alleged playing fast and loose, to this country's detriment, with the rules of the Community and how, in the future, we intended to engage on regional integration. So, Mr Rowley arrives today for his four-day stay.

It's to the good. This visit, if leaders appreciate and grasp its potential, is a platform from which Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago can reset their relations and, more important, reassume their roles as the natural leaders of CARICOM. It is an opportunity, too, for them to lead to an informed and rational discourse about the Community, rather than engaging in self-pitying whinge.

Prime Minister Holness' invitation to his Trinidadian counterpart came in the midst of, and was in part a symbolic effort to end once and for all, perennial complaints of mistreatment of Jamaican citizens travelling to Trinidad and Tobago, contrary to its obligations under the treaty by which CARICOM operates and in breach of community law, as established by the Caribbean Court of Justice in the Shanique Myrie case. But while this matter is a proximate trigger of unease between Kingston and Port-of-Spain, it represents a conflation of a broad range of issues, relating to trade, Jamaica's relative economic strength in CARICOM, and its historic ambivalence to regional integration.

 

RICHEST MEMBER OF CARICOM

 

There was a time when Jamaica was the most developed and richest member of CARICOM, with the largest manufacturing base. Much has shifted in the past four decades, as the Jamaican economy has stagnated. Helped by an endowment of oil and natural gas, Trinidad and Tobago is now the community's most powerful economy. It runs a trade surplus of nearly US$800 million with Jamaica, albeit that perhaps 80 per cent of that is accounted for in petroleum-related exports.

However, Jamaican businesses often complain that their products are subject to non-tariff barriers in Port-of-Spain; that the Trinidadians cheat on the Community's rules of origin; and that the republic illegally provides its manufacturers with subsidies via low energy costs. However, there has been no recorded challenge by the Jamaican Government or a Jamaican firm for alleged subsidies, which are government Articles 96 to 124 in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. There perhaps been a single one under Article 84 relating to rules of origin.

Put another way, CARICOM is a rules-based institution, with varied clear procedures for resolving disputes, including at Article 193, "arbitration and adjudication". But these mechanisms have to be triggered with documented complaints, not anecdotal declarations.

A significant recent development is Mr Holness' declaration that Jamaica is in CARICOM to compete and the country's broader acknowledgement that significant cause of its global uncompetitiveness lie in more than 40 years of bad economic policies, which it is determined to fix. Hopefully, Jamaica perceives its capacity to trade in more than visible goods, but also services.

The other point to be made is that Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are the power poles of CARICOM, the one, for now, politically influential, the other economically so. They are the significant levers of the Community which, acting in concert, much as Germany and France during most of the life of the European Union, can make the sum of CARICOM more than the value of its individual parts.