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Jamaican PSOJ's concerns 'don't make sense to me', says Trinidad &Tobago prime minister

Published:Wednesday | July 6, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley.
William Mahfood, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.
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Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has declared that the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica's (PSOJ) claim that the twin-island republic is the only country in the region getting economic benefits from the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) "does not make sense".

Rowley's dismissal of the view put forward by PSOJ President William Mahfood came minutes after CARICOM Chairman Roosevelt Skerrit took note of the "failure" of member states to follow through on agreed plans that have affected how regional citizens benefit from the economic arrangements.

Last week, Mahfood claimed that, without even realising it, "Jamaica, for many, many years, has been the ATM for Trinidad.

"What exists now in CARICOM is a one-way street. We have an influx of goods coming from Trinidad. Trinidad, at this point in time, is the only beneficiary of CARICOM," Mahfood had told The Gleaner.

However, Rowley, questioned on the matter, was dismissive.

"I don't respond to that. It doesn't make any sense to me. I'm focused elsewhere," he told The Gleaner following the opening of the 37th CARICOM Heads of Government Conference at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown.

 

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Mahfood's concerns appeared to have been shared by Skerrit, who, in his inaugural address at the opening ceremony, questioned why many of the agreed principles for integration had not been implemented over the years.

"I cannot understand why we have not completed the essential infrastructure to facilitate the movement towards an effective free trade area of meaningful community or single market and economy. Why has it proven so difficult to move people, goods and services cheaply and efficiently around the Caribbean?" he asked.

The Dominican prime minister added, to applause: "Why is it cheaper to travel by air from Dominica to New York (in the United States) than it is to travel from Dominica to Guyana? Why is it cheaper to phone a relative in London from Grenada than it is to phone a friend in St Vincent? Why don't we use maritime transport to bridge the Caribbean Sea?"

Skerrit argued that the region has made progress in education, security and aspects of free movement. But he insisted that the regional body needed to focus on being more effective on implementing the decisions made at meetings such as the heads of government conference.

He has also suggested that CARICOM re-examine its agenda and remove long-standing items that ostensibly have seen no action from member states over their decades of inclusion.

"This will certainly allow for swifter action to be taken on the more immediate issues," he said.

CARICOM has agreed on a variety of measures to strengthen the CSME and, according to Skerrit, officials have completed all the necessary technical work for implementation.

"Due to the failure of our member states to give the go-ahead, those critical measures remain unattended," he said.

Skerrit said there can be "more movement on other areas of the CSME" through the establishment of a labour market information system, a single information and communications technology space, and the original framework to control crime.

The CSME was established under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to allow for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and skills across the 15-member regional bloc.

Last year, the single market component of the CSME was to have been established but, as far back as 2012, Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, the regional leader with the responsibility for the CSME, said the deadline could not be achieved because of economic challenges.

A new deadline has not been set.

It is anticipated that the full establishment of the CSME would involve a largely singular economic policy and single currency.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com