EDITORIAL - What Kamla must do

Published: Tuesday | December 10, 2013 Comments 0

Perhaps Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, will find time in South Africa, where both have gone for Nelson Mandela's funeral, for a quiet chat on bilateral matters.

In that event, we expect Mrs Persad-Bissessar to assure our PM that Gary Griffith, her national security minister, spoke out of turn and that Trinidad and Tobago remains committed to the understandings reached in Kingston last week by its foreign minister, Winston Dookeran.

If Mrs Persad-Bissessar can't give such an undertaking, it would be a clear signal that Port-of-Spain is not to be trusted and that Kingston would have to consider other solutions in simmering immigration and trade disputes.

Or, if she does, but can't make her decision stick, it would be confirmation that the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister presides over a dysfunctional government, with which Jamaica, and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states, can't do business.

This newspaper, however, prefers, at least for now, to give Mrs Persad-Bissessar the benefit of the doubt.

If we are right, Mrs Persad-Bissessar's first act on her return home should be to publicly declare her support for, and commitment to, the Dookeran initiative.


That would help to assuage a deepening distrust in Jamaica for Trinidad and Tobago and help to provide political space for the Simpson Miller administration and others in this country who insist there is value in CARICOM and the regional integration project.

The history of the testy relationship between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago is variegated and complex, going back to the dissolution of the West Indies Federation - in which they were the two most critical players - more than half a century ago.

More recently, in the single market that is CARICOM, Trinidad and Tobago has emerged as the economic power and Jamaica its largest market.


Indeed, Port-of-Spain runs an annual trade balance of nearly US$1 billion with Kingston. But Jamaican businesses complain that while the Trinidadians enjoy this country's market, they do not reciprocate.

Among the claims is that Port-of-Spain erects non-tariff barriers to Jamaican goods, even as it subsidises its own manufacturers who cheat on CARICOM's rules of origin. Such perceptions of Trinidad and Tobago's unfairness are exacerbated by the view that Port-of-Spain reneged on an undertaking to supply liquefied natural gas, seen as critical to cutting energy costs here and to making our economy more competitive.

This is part of the background noise that accompanies a view that Trinidad and Tobago profiles Jamaicans entering that country, in breach of CARICOM's agreed regime of hassle-free travel by Community citizens, and was at play when immigration officers in Port-of-Spain recently turned back 13 Jamaicans. They have fanned calls for a boycott of Trinidadian goods.

When Mr Dookeran came to Kingston for talks with his Jamaican counterpart, A. J. Nicholson, hoping to cool tensions, we assumed that he carried the imprimatur of his prime minister.

Mr Griffith, however, rounded on his Cabinet colleague, accusing him of overstepping his authority on immigration matters and insisting that "Trinidad and Tobago is not a mall where anyone will be allowed to enter".

We are surprised not to have heard a reprimand from Mrs Persad-Bisssessar. She would do well to keep a US$1-billion figure in mind.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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