Editorial | Hailing Mrs Johnson Smith's diplomacy
The graph lines indicating a significant drop in the number of Jamaicans who were denied entry to Trinidad over the last 12 months are a powerful endorsement to the efficacy of diplomacy and level-headedness over riposte and sabre-rattling.
The latter was the preferred response promoted by some sector leaders in Jamaica over the last few years to what was perceived to be insular maltreatment of locals seeking to visit Trinidad and Tobago for business or pleasure. Allegations flew fast and furious of insensitive and xenophobic immigration officials at Piarco International Airport who instinctively sought to block entry to Jamaican citizens.
The spat was exacerbated by years-long quarrels by local manufacturers about the balance of trade between the two countries being unfairly tilted in Trinidad's favour. T&T, they argued, was bolstered by cheap oil that it produced and electricity costs which gave their manufacturers a weighty advantage in the fight for consumer dollars across the Caribbean. What's worse, Trinidad-made products flood supermarket and shopfront shelves in Jamaica, muscling away profits from many local companies. It was also claimed that some T&T producers were cheats, circumventing rules-of-origin protocols for unfair benefit.
There was much hissing and spitting, with ordinarily sensible stakeholders pivoting on emotion and sentiment, throwing around irresponsible suggestions for a wholesale boycott of Trinidad-made products or an outright ban of, or punitive levies on, imports from that country. Besides some of the recommendations being anathema to CARICOM and other trade pacts to which we are signatory, the rhetoric was unhelpful and immature.
BLEND OF STRENGTH AND TACT
Gladly, Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica's foreign affairs and foreign trade minister, displayed a balanced blend of strength and tact. Kingston and Port-of-Spain are crucial players in CARICOM, the former the region's political and ideological leader and the latter its economic powerhouse. Mrs Johnson Smith, an attorney-at-law, has transitioned well into the sometimes hectic role as Jamaica's foreign relations pinch hitter and has demonstrated admirable poise. She has been quick off the curve.
Discussion with Trinidadian officials at various tiers of governance manifested itself in solutions including a more hospitable environment for the detention of persons who were denied entry and, apparently, a change in the abrasive behaviour of some immigration personnel at Piarco.
Mrs Johnson Smith has hinted that Jamaicans seeking to visit Trinidad have also made themselves more conversant with the strictures and expectations of the receiving state, and that preparation made them less likely to draw undue scrutiny or trigger concerns about the bona fides of their immigration status.
Diplomacy works, and we believe that there can be further traction made on any outstanding disputes between the two countries if cooler heads prevail. As we have previously said, companies that have lingering concerns about trade protocol may build an airtight case and seek recourse in the Caribbean Court of Justice in its original jurisdiction. Commerce, immigration and cultural integration are too important to the agendas of both Kingston and Port-of-Spain to be subject to impetuosity.