EDITORIAL - Grabbing our CARICOM marbles

Published: Sunday | December 29, 2013 Comments 0

The Jamaican Government must resist those who now urge it to grab its marbles, kick over the board, and stall the process of regional market integration because the flow of intra-regional trade has moved against us.

In their promotion of economic petulance, the new insularists, who, rightfully, pine for the old days of three decades ago when Jamaica enjoyed a trade surplus of 30 per cent with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), miss two fundamental points.

First, economic arrangements, such as the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, are not agreements which members simply opt in or out of, because of immediate circumstances.

If that were the case, in the early 1980s when Jamaica was still CARICOM's dominant manufacturer, enjoying its hefty trade surplus, others might have - as is being urged on Kingston - 're-evaluated' their positions in CARICOM and 'suspended the common external tariff (CET)', rather than repairing their economies.

Additionally, and related to the first observation, implicit in the proposal is an unease with the concept of, and the increasing trend towards, open global trade and the effect of this in enhancing competitiveness of domestic industries.

Moreover, this call for Jamaica's suspension of the CET suggests a reckless and, perhaps, wilful misapprehension of Article 43 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which would not only put this country in conflict with its treaty obligations, but mark us as an unreliable party in the international arrangements.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBLE FOR FAILURE

There are, however, smatterings of redemption in some of the arguments of those who would transfer to CARICOM - and more specifically, Trinidad and Tobago - blame for Jamaica's economic crisis. For it is beyond question that Jamaica's economic failure represents the failure of our Government to "organise policies around a clear and coherent strategy" to achieve economic growth.

Indeed, for more than four decades fiscal policy was, largely, geared at sustaining government consumption, rather than private-sector investment and job creation. The result: economic stagnation and a debt of over 140 per cent of gross domestic production, whose servicing, after two rounds of agreed default, requires 43 per cent of the Government's Budget to service.

Recent policy initiatives by the Government, such as an initial stab of tax reform and fiscal accountability, albeit at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, have the beginnings of the strategic effort to extricate our economy from the restraints that hobbled it for too long.

Further, it may be true, as is often claimed by the critics of the regional initiative, that CARICOM imposes unfair restrictions on Jamaican imports and cheats on the regional regime.

Equity in intra-regional trade and the rationalisation of incentives - often a cause of tension in single market arrangements - are political and legal issues.

In that respect, we support calls for ministerial dialogue and, in fact, recommend a special summit of CARICOM leaders, with candid and forthright talking - which Jamaica's high commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Sharon Saunders, complains is too often not the case - to address these issues.

But there are other formal dispute-resolution mechanisms, including the Caribbean Court of Justice, open to Jamaicans who have been injured by unfair trade practices. They should be used. Whinging from the sidelines is no solution.

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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