EDITORIAL - A good idea from Ms Saunders

Published: Thursday | December 26, 2013 Comments 0

Sharon Saunders, Jamaica's high commissioner in Trinidad and Tobago, has placed an interesting idea on the table, which should help to ease, if not fully resolve, ongoing trade and diplomatic tensions between the two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) members.

In that regard, we hope the administrations in Port-of-Spain and Kingston are listening and that Ms Saunders does not land in trouble for a less important, but candid observation, she made to this newspaper.

Part of the reason why the problems between the two countries may have simmered for so long, she suggested, is because leaders have not been "forthright as we need to be" about the issues.

"They are diplomatic and try not to step on each other," she said.

If this, indeed, was the case, we had hoped that things had changed when the Trinidad and Tobago foreign minister, Winston Dookeran, came to Kingston earlier this month for talks with his Jamaican counterpart, A.J. Nicholson. But Ms Saunders should know.

Ms Saunders' more critical idea is for Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to establish what, on the face of it, would be a guest-worker scheme, similar to those under which Jamaicans find seasonal employment, especially on farms and hotels, in the United States and Canada.

The issues between the countries are deeply historic and complex. But they have recently manifested themselves primarily in disputes over the nearly US$1-billion trade deficit Port-of-Spain enjoys with Kingston and quarrels how Jamaicans are treated when they visit Trinidad and Tobago.

That trade balance, in part, reflects Jamaica's uncompetitive economy, which has seen little growth over the past 40 years, leading to high unemployment - officially at 14 per cent.

There is, however, the fact that Trinidad and Tobago improperly subsidises its manufacturers, who, it is also claimed, cheat on CARICOM's rules of origin, while their government erects non-tariff barriers against Jamaican goods.

But there appears to be an issue of economic migration by Jamaicans, who may not fall within the category of professionals allowed free movement in the community.

With annual exports, including oil, of more than US$12 billion and per-capita GDP of near US$21,000 - more than three times Jamaica's - Trinidad and Tobago, by regional standards, is a relatively wealthy country. Its unemployment is less than five per cent, supported, in part, by several government job schemes and social benefits.

Not surprisingly, there are many low-wage - in that country's context - jobs that Trinidadians are reluctant to perform, but Jamaicans are willing to do. There has been a quiet, largely undocumented trek to that country.

Gary Griffith, Trinidad and Tobago's national security minister, says there are more than 17,000 undocumented Jamaicans in the country, many of them apparently doing jobs that Trinidadians by-pass. The presence of this alleged undocumented workforce in a country of 1.3 million is sometimes exacerbated by clashes of culture and the stereotyping of Jamaicans.

Ms Saunders' proposal, on the face of it, would help to provide a structured flow of Jamaican workers, outside of those who have automatic access, to help meet the needs of the Trinidadian labour market.

There are questions, of course, of whether such an arrangement could apply to a single CARICOM member and not be in breach of the treaty. It is, however, worth exploring.

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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