Businessman Claude Clarke, in defence of Jamaican manufacturing, said last Thursday that Jamaica should suspend the Common External Tariff, no matter the legal consequences.
His appeal comes amid rumblings from critics of Caricom who want Jamaica to break away from the bloc, citing unfair competition especially from oil-economy Trinidad.
"It is time for the Jamaican Government to assert its sovereign authority and suspend the Common External Tariff of CARICOM, at least for the duration of the IMF programme," said Clarke, managing director of Richmond Valley Company, speaking as guest speaker at the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) annual awards banquet in New Kingston.
"This is no time for the legalistic niceties of litigation to solve this problem," Clarke said, noting that Trinidad did not go to the courts when it imposed a "virtual trade embargo" on Jamaican imports to rescue its manufacturers in the 1980s.
Clarke served as industry minister in the Manley administration of 1989.
"Surely, the Government could not be aware of how irrational it is to handicap Jamaican producers with taxes and fees, while it surrenders as much as J$15 billion of revenue to our CARICOM competitors as subsidy to make them more competitive that our own producers in our own market," Clarke said.
Jamaicans have been foregoing billions of dollars "directly invested in moving jobs out of Jamaica and out of the reach of the Jamaican worker", which benefit CARICOM countries, Clarke said.
Clarke is the second former trade minister to speak out against Caricom. At mid-year, Senator Chris Tufton, opposition spokes-man on foreign trade and investment, called for Jamaica to consider temporarily withdrawing from Caricom.
Tufton's call was also supported by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness who said the CET was the basis of the large imbalance in trade between Jamaica and the region and that a suspension would allow Jamaica to iron out the trade issues.
In his speech at the JMA banquet, Clarke also came out in support of the junior market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, which is in danger of being shut down as a result of the pending omnibus tax legislation.
"My sincere advice to the Government is, don't even think about it, unless you can show Jamaica how else you are going to attract equity capital to grow small and medium-size manufacturing activities and give small investors the opportunity to experience the benefits and joy of ownership in businesses that build Jamaica," Clarke said.