Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial | Leveraging Jamaica’s CARICOM potential

Published:Friday | July 7, 2017 | 7:00 AM

At the regular summit in Grenada on Wednesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness chided regional counterparts for moving too slowly in transforming the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) into a genuine single market and economy - the CSME, in the parlance of the community.

"We should all make the commitment and redouble our efforts to have compliance towards creating the real CSME, otherwise we will keep meeting, and eventually, it will wither away," Mr Holness said.

More than likely, the Jamaican leader's sentiment will be reflected in the communiquÈ to be issued today summarising the 38th full conference of CARICOM heads of government.

This intervention was significant in several respects, one of which is especially positive in that it inferred the continued deepening of Mr Holness's conversion to the merits of CARICOM, and he has been able to sustain the reversal of his Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) historic distrust towards integration. While JLP governments fulfilled their obligations to CARICOM, they were often suspicious that its aim was another shot at federation - via the back door.

Mr Holness changed the narrative shortly after his election 16 months ago when he declared that "we are in a common market" and that Jamaica intended to extract full value from it.

What the prime minister's statement at the Grand Anse summit suggests, though, is that he may not be fully seized of the strategies and/or tactics to enhance the viability of the CSME and what ought to be his own role in the effort. That is surprising.

A year ago, Mr Holness established a task force, chaired by Bruce Golding, a former prime minister and leader of the JLP, to review CARICOM's performance and how well Jamaica had done in it. Given that the Golding Group was launched after Mr Holness's declaration of commitment to the community, he was perhaps reasonably certain that the task force would offer intellectual and technical support for his decision.

In that regard, whatever else it might argue, the group is likely to have conceded that despite CARICOM's deficiencies, the more fundamental cause for Jamaica not having done better from it was our own inappropriate economic policies over many decades. That has begun to change, and with it, Jamaica's competitiveness not only within CARICOM, but globally.

 

Political issues

 

Then there are the political issues such as CARICOM's so-called 'implementation deficit', at which Mr Holness hinted this week when noting that only a handful of the Community's 15 members had completed most of their CSME obligations.

Removal of obstacles to the movement of capital and labour, much more the coordination of economic policy, is politically tricky, especially in the absence of an empowered supranational executive as exists in the European Union. But more can be done faster by utilising the appropriate levers. And Mr Holness has control of one of these.

As we have argued many times, there are two major poles in CARICOM: Jamaica as the political leader and most dynamic market; and Trinidad and Tobago as its economic power. These two countries, if they coordinate their efforts and establish the agenda, possess the engines to drive CARICOM. The Jamaica-Trinidad and Tobago axis, in this regard, should be similar to what Germany and France have historically been to the EU.

Mr Holness, if he grasps the context and develops the skills, need only leverage his latent authority.