Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Editorial | Mr Holness' CARICOM agenda

Published:Monday | November 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Unless it contains something radically at odds with the thinking of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, this newspaper continues to be flabbergasted by the failure of the Government to publish the Golding Task Force report on how Jamaica should approach the relationship with its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners, as well as other countries in the region.

It is now past half a year since Bruce Golding, a former prime minister, handed in that report and 14 months since it started it work with, we detected, a sense of urgency, because of the posture of regional economic partnership that had been adopted by Prime Minister Holness.

Not only has the PM insisted that Jamaica is at the table in CARICOM, the 15-member economic group, he, unlike his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) predecessors, has emerged, if not an instinctive integrationist, as a pragmatist who sees the possibility for Jamaica extracting value by integrating its economy with others in the region. Mr Holness appreciates the calculus that the sum of the whole is more than the product of the individual parts.

Jamaica's latest public embrace of CARICOM and regional integration is contained in his remarks at an IMF-hosted forum in Kingston last week, geared towards unlock the growth potential of the Caribbean after decades of an anaemic economic performance.

 

FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOUR

 

Speaking against the backdrop of a series of recent storms that devastated infrastructure while blowing off course the economies of several Eastern Caribbean states, Mr Holness made a pitch for the free movement of labour in the region, even on a temporary basis, to help drive recovery.

The focus of CARICOM, he noted, has been primarily on the free movement on goods, without making the economic connection between the mobility of capital, goods and services, and labour. This matter, he suggested, had been placed in sharp relief because of the damage wrought by the recent hurricanes.

Said Mr Holness: "How will these economies recover if there is not a mechanism to allow free movement of labour, even temporarily, to help in the recovery and relief efforts ... . It is in this capacity that our respective economies and countries have to open our societies, open our schools, that will give us, collectively, the ability to respond to disasters and crises."

That statement, of itself, says little, but read together with his remarks at this summer's CARICOM summit of the need for the group to accelerate its move towards a single market and economy, it underlines the prime minister's agenda and his continued shift away, with respect to regional integration, from old JLP orthodoxy.

"The true expression of the realisation of the integration dream is to get the CSME going and we have to resolve, as leaders, to do this," Mr Holness said at that summit.

 

NON-TARIFF BARRIERS

 

Under the single market and economy project, capital already moves relatively freely in the region, but only a few categories of workers, having been appropriately certified, can move across borders with limited restrictions. There are still some, though lessening, complaints - which used to come mainly from Jamaica - about non-tariff barriers to trade.

But as Mr Holness noted at the summit, there are some states in deficit in some of the basic elements of the regime which he wants to push along. Jamaica, as CARICOM's politically most influential member as well as its most significant import market, is in a good position to lead that charge.

But while Mr Holness has given snap shots of the direction he wants to take, he has, thus far, not offered a large strategic vision for the region. We expect that some of that would be shaped by the findings of the Golding report, in which all Jamaicans have a stake. That is why we can't understand the delay in its publication so that there can be serious debate of what it offers.