Prime Minister of St Lucia Dr Kenny Anthony said the issue of trade imbalances among CARICOM countries should be best addressed by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Anthony, the incoming CARICOM chairman, spoke ahead of the July 4-6 summit in St Lucia amid calls by certain stakeholders in Jamaica for a review of the island's relationship with the 15-member regional bloc.
The CCJ, established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region's final court, also acts as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs CARICOM.
Jamaica has voiced concern over a massive trade imbalance with Trinidad and Tobago in particular, but Anthony said he is encouraged by recent statements from his Jamaican counterpart, Portia Simpson Miller, reaffirming her country's commitment to CARICOM.
Jamaican manufacturers have long complained that their counterparts in Trinidad and Tobago enjoy unfair subsidies, and Anthony said that there are several sides to what he described as "this very complex and sensitive issue".
TRINIDAD BENEFITS MOST
He said that Port-of-Spain has benefitted the most from CARICOM largely because "it had the courage" to restructure its economy, and because of its energy costs.
"Trinidad is able to extend real benefits to its manufacturing sector as a result of subsidised energy. This a very contentious matter and is the cause of some of the unequal competition between Trinidad and the other member states," said Anthony.
"It is an issue that Trinidad has to face and grapple with, and one which is also translated in effect of airline operations."
He believes that these are issues that need to be dealt with at the level of the CCJ since they cannot be dealt with through policy responses.
"The truth is that the Jamaican economy itself needs major restructuring to cope with the issues it has at hand. For when economies are in trouble, they seek to blame others. So there is a larger picture to it, and as much as I understand and sympathise with Jamaica that it has to deal with this issue, the fact is over the years manufacturing in Jamaica has contracted not only because of rising costs, but because of global competition," said Anthony.
"On the other hand, there is some unfairness where Trinidad is concerned. You know the usual problem: when the economy is doing well, and you begin to make investments abroad, you also attract criticism." Anthony said Trinidad has moved boldly into the Eastern Caribbean and Jamaica and as a result, is being targeted.
He acknowledged some legitimate concerns, however, saying, for example, that LIAT, the Antigua-based regional airline, has to pay market prices for fuel while the Trinidad carrier Caribbean Airlines benefits from subsidies.
Regional leaders open their 33rd summit here in Castries today, Wednesday.