Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial | What of the Golding task force?

Published:Wednesday | January 4, 2017 | 1:00 AM

It is approximately eight months since Prime Minister Andrew Holness named Bruce Golding to lead a review task force on Jamaica's membership of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). We are surprised that in that time Mr Golding, it appears, has neither handed in his report nor delivered a draft one.

It is not that we believe that this is a simple exercise that could or should be accomplished with a slap and a dash, absent of rigorous thought and analysis. Rather, we assumed the undertaking to be so serious and important as to demand urgent, ongoing attention.

At least, that is the sense with which we were left at the time of Mr Holness' formal announcement of the task force during the Budget Debate, and earlier, soon after his Jamaica Labour Party's victory in the February general election, when he signalled his party's retreat from a latent hostility to CARICOM, which usually translated to suspicions and tensions when it formed the government.

Indeed, Mr Holness could hardly have been clearer about the place he intended for Jamaica in the 15-member community when she spoke in the Budget Debate in May. "We must assert ourselves in such a way that Jamaica gets the full benefits that membership in CARICOM promises," he said.

There is sufficient background, data and analyses of CARICOM's failures and successes, as well as Jamaica's own economic performance over nearly half a century, to help inform the work of the task force, without it merely regurgitating old prescriptions. Although, any medicine to be on offer from Mr Golding's team is unlikely to be radically different from what has been

prescribed before.

Jamaica has long run a huge trade deficit with CARICOM - over US$700 million in recent years - which largely means Trinidad and Tobago. The bulk of that deficit reflects Jamaica's importation of petroleum products from its south Caribbean partner, although manufactures, mostly processed foods, is not an inconsequential contributor.

 

INAPPROPRIATE POLICIES

 

And despite what, until recently, was the perennial gripe of Jamaican businesses that their products faced non-tariff entry barriers in the Trinidad and Tobago market, Mr Golding, as a former prime minister, would have known - and as his assignment on the task force will have confirmed - Jamaica's main problem in exporting to CARICOM rests with decades of inappropriate economic policies that made its firms uncompetitive. If and where the barriers were real, Jamaican firms failed to support their complaints with hard evidence, or to use the dispute resolution mechanisms afforded by the treaty.

That the complaints are now muted has less to do with any change in policy in CARICOM countries than the fact that economic forms at home, allied with lower energy costs, are making Jamaican firms more competitive. This may not yet be translating to major growth in exports, but shows in import substitution.

What, therefore, should be the major concentration of the Golding task force is whether, and at what pace, CARICOM should be deepening its integration towards a single market/economy and what Jamaica's role should be in that endeavour, especially in the context of global realities. Perhaps it is that matters like Brexit and the rise of anti-integration nationalism in Europe have given pause to the deliberations of Mr Golding's group.

In the global circumstances, deepened integration among small, weak countries like those in CARICOM makes sense. It ought not have taken this long for Mr Golding to recognise that.