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Editorial | Rowley, Holness and the way forward

Published:Friday | August 5, 2016 | 8:14 AM

There has been no explanation for why it took all of 11 days after the end of Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley's visit to Jamaica for an official communiqué to be issued on the talks between him and his Jamaican counterpart, Andrew Holness.

But whatever the reason for the delay, this is a document of profound importance. For while - as this newspaper has been pointing out - the Holness administration has been walking back the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) historical scepticism to Caribbean integration, the communiquÈ confirm that Jamaica is not only firmly in the Caribbean Community ( CARICOM), but wants to go deeper.

Said the communiquÈ: "The prime ministers discussed ways in which both countries could actively contribute to the success of the reform process in CARICOM and in accelerating the implementation and use of the CSME, as well as to build competitiveness to stimulate growth and create employment."

The bit about "accelerating the implementation and use of the CSME" is significant. SME is shorthand for single market and economy, or a seamless economic space into which CARICOM hopes to transform itself and at which the 15-member Community has been working for a decade. While Jamaica has been part of process, the JLP, until Mr Holness' recent premiership, has never been fully on board, wary that it was a "back-door" route to political federation, from which this country walked away more than half a century ago.

Moreover, there has been cultivated a sense of grievance against CARICOM by many people here, including private-sector leaders. They feel that the Community's free-trade arrangements have not worked for Jamaica - with its trade deficit with the Community of around US$800 million - largely because of cheating by others, rather than domestic uncompetitiveness wrought by decades of inappropriate economic policies.

Shortly after taking office, Mr Holness, although he established a CARICOM review task force, made clear that rather than withdraw from the Community, Jamaica intended to make an economic success of its participation in it.

 

SURPLUS LABOUR MARKET

 

The confirmation of Jamaica's declaration of commitment apart, Mr Rowley's visit, and the communiqué, accomplished two other things. First, they set out Kingston's priorities/demands of the Community generally, and from Trinidad and Tobago, its strongest economy, specifically.

Jamaica, with its surplus labour market, especially at the unskilled and semi-skilled level, wants, for instance, an expansion of the categories of workers who can, with the appropriate registration, operate without hindrance in the Community. Kingston has proposed a sort of regional labour exchange to match supply and demand.

At a bilateral level, Jamaica raised its concerns of the competitive advantage Trinidad and Tobago enjoyed over its regional partners because of access to cheap oil and gas and how such natural resources could be more fairly shared. They also plan to establish a bilateral mechanism to promote trade and investment, and, apparently outside of those that already exist within CARICOM, to resolve disputes.

The second and larger point is this: As this newspaper often says, there are two significant poles in CARICOM - Jamaica as the political leader, and Trinidad and Tobago as the strongest economic force. These two countries are critical to shaping events in CARICOM as Germany and France were to the European Union. Messrs Rowley and Holness have set an agenda. They need now to drag others on board.