Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Editorial | Foray into CARICOM

Published:Saturday | June 3, 2017 | 6:00 AM

As we read about the upcoming trade mission of more than a dozen Jamaican companies to sister CARICOM countries, we wonder whether this should be taken as a sign that there is marked improvement in the often fractious trading relationships that exist in the region.

More to the point, is there reason to hope that such an initiative may become the pathway to establishing a genuine single market and economy within CARICOM?

The experiment to establish the CARICOM Single Market has been ongoing for many decades. The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) is not operating with full compliance of its mandate of free movement of skills, free movement of goods, free movement of services, movement of capital, and the right of establishment.

Fissures have developed in efforts to achieve compliance, not only because of the unevenness in intraregional trade, but also because of the shabby treatment meted out to Jamaicans when they arrive at some ports of entry in the region. From time to time, tensions have heightened over these contentious issues, resulting in threats of trade boycotts.

Available data from CARICOM tell an eloquent story of anaemic growth of intraregional trade at an average two per cent. It also details the stark unevenness in intraregional trade among CARICOM partners.

Take the last 10 years. The size of intraregional trade was calculated at US$2.9 billion. Trinidad and Tobago accounted for 39 per cent of that business, followed by Jamaica with 17 per cent, and Barbados with 11 per cent.

 

LARGEST IMPORTER

 

Interestingly, Jamaica is the largest importer of goods from CARICOM countries, accounting for nearly a third of intraregional goods and services traded. That amounts to twice that spent by Barbados and nearly seven times Trinidad and Tobago's expenditure. This lopsidedness has been cause for concern among the local private sector.

The announcement by JAMPRO, the state promotion agency, that 18 companies would be part of the Caribbean Market Mission to Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and The Bahamas within the next few weeks has to be viewed against this background. Indeed, it is Year Two of a three-year initiative to help locals break into regional markets.

The ultimate goal, according to JAMPRO, is to secure export increase for these companies by as much as 50 per cent. And there is definitely scope for expansion in trade in goods and services within these targeted countries. But somehow, the importation of cheap non-CARICOM imports appears too hard to resist and may prove to be the limiting factor in this effort.

With the ongoing fretfulness in the local business community over an ever-sliding dollar, high electricity costs, and heavy taxation, efforts to ramp up trade are critical for the local private sector, and we can understand why companies would be eager to do business with their neighbours.

With the new uncertainties surrounding the future of trading blocs like the European Union, will 2017 be the year when CARICOM settles the issues of market access and free movement and moves forward for the enrichment of the Caribbean people?

The urgent need remains for intraregional trade to be accelerated as this is the incentive many within the private sector seek to expand investments, innovate, and create jobs. Perhaps it is not too far-fetched that this might lead to the long-term survival of the region.