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Editorial | Now that Jamaica and T&T have talked

Published:Monday | July 25, 2016 | 7:00 AM

If nothing else, what Keith Rowley's visit to Jamaica last week proved is that talk, too, is good.

Perhaps, too, there was another lesson for Jamaica's opinion makers and private sector leaders: that before issues are resolved and complaints attended to, they have to be crystallised and clearly articulated. It is hard to get to the bottom of ephemeral conflations.

So, by the time Dr Rowley ended his five-day charm offensive to the island, he was being hailed as a "true regionalist" by William Mahfood, the outgoing president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, who not so long ago had called for a boycott of exports from Trinidad and Tobago, for which he claimed the Jamaica market was like an ATM. Others in the private sector were equally effusive about Dr Rowley.

What was not clear from all this is what ground, if any, Trinidad and Tobago had given up, or, on the flip side, precisely what the Jamaican private sector had achieved. Neither they nor Dr Rowley said - at least not publicly.

The closest we came to this was Prime Minister Andrew Holness' statement about his bilateral talks with the Trinidad and Tobago leader, in which they "acknowledged the need for improvements in our trade relations, including the removal of impediments to the free movement of goods and services between both counties".

"As leaders, we agreed to work towards a better and more stable environment for businesses to thrive, to increase investment flows between our countries and to develop mechanisms to facilitate closer trade co-operation and the resolution of trade issues," Mr Holness added.

But again, there is an absence of specifics.

As we understand it, there were two primary issues that triggered Prime Minister Holness' invitation for Dr Rowley to visit Jamaica. One was the long-standing disputation by this country's private sector that Trinidad and Tobago fulfils its obligation under the CARICOM arrangements. Particularly, they claim Trinidad and Tobago manufacturers cheat on CARICOM rules of origin; that Jamaica's exports face non-tariff barriers in Port of Spain; and more important that Trinidad and Tobago uses is oil and gas to provide its manufacturers with illegal subsidies.

Two immediate issues arise here. One is that the complainants have not worried to make the case that there are these specific subsidies within the definition of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and beyond what it permissible by the World Trade Organization. Moreover, Jamaican firms, while they complain, have generally failed to document their cases, much more trigger any of CARICOM's myriad dispute resolution arrangements, including arbitration and judicial settlement at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The leg to Mr Holness' invitation is the seeming credible complaints by some Jamaican travellers to Trinidad and Tobago that they are not only denied entry, contrary to the provisions of the treaty, but in violation of settled community law as set down by the CCJ. On this matter, according to Mr Holness, "Prime Minister Rowley has given an assurance that his Government is taking the necessary steps to improve the situation".

There is work to be done at the level of leaders to continue to modernise CARICOM. In the meantime, it is up to Jamaica to ensure it is competitive in CARICOM and to use rules if it is being hard-done. Just as important as the two most important poles of CARICOM, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are in a position to set its agenda - if they talk to each other.