'We have missed the boat on T&T trade issue'

Published: Wednesday | January 1, 2014 Comments 0
LoK Jack
LoK Jack

Richard Blackford, Contributor

A recent Gleaner story gave a clear indication that the impasse between Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) and Jamaica is far from settled. The story equally highlights an interesting perspective on the Trinidad deportation issue, not to mention the masked impunity from T&T manufacturers to Jamaica and Jamaicans, even as they jostle to ensure the security of their blue riband market for their manufactured goods.

T&T Manufacturers' Association President Nicholas Lok Jack's comment that Jamaican manufacturers are not serious enough about growing their business in Trinidad is laughable, to say the least.

In the 40 years of Caricom's existence, Jamaican exporters continue to operate form a 'back-foot' position as far as having access to Trinidad's markets is concerned, relative to the ease with which T&T manufactured goods access the Jamaican marketplace. Lok Jack's rejection of claims that several barriers had been set up to prevent Jamaican goods entering Trinidad requires a full response from his equal here in Jamaica, as the evidence does not support his claim. According to Lok Jack, Jamaican manufacturers have always looked to areas outside the region, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, where there is a large group of Jamaicans, as their main international markets.

Of course, Jamaican manufacturers have to look at other markets because T&T's rules of entry are designed to prevent them from gaining access. Jamaica's trade deficit with Caricom is a staggering US$1.2 billion, and more than 85 per cent of this amount enriches Trinidad manufacturers because of the appetite of Jamaica's population for imported goods. Jamaica represents the largest market for Trinidadian produce and accounts for more than 30 per cent of intra-regional exports.

The fact is that Jamaican manufacturers have very little presence in the Trinidad market because of the difficulties encountered by some Jamaican com-panies wishing to enter.

In the last three years, both Dr Christopher Tufton (former agriculture minister) and current Industry and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton have come out against T&T for using unfair practices to dominate Caricom's agro-processing and other manufacturing sectors.

Dr Tufton said T&Ts agro-processors have been using raw materials imported from outside the region and, as a result, Jamaican producers are not operating on a level playing field, completely ignoring the rules of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton announced in Parliament that Jamaica had imposed additional duties on lubrication oil products from T&T, and accused the Trinidadians of engaging in a scheme to circumvent the rules of origin in the Treaty of Chaguaramas.

Deep-rooted issues

It is evident that Jamaica's problems with Caricom are deep and cannot be solved simply by the setting up of Jamaica-Trinidad trade facilitation. The root of the problem goes to the heart of competitiveness and the rules governing the operation of the Treaty of Chaguaramas.

The current situation begs for serious intervention at the top of the government as, clearly, Foreign Minister A.J. Nicholson's talks with his Trinidad counterpart have borne very little fruit. My sense is that we have missed the boat completely. True, we must officially focus on the free-movement issue, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The anti-Caricom and anti-Trinidad rhetoric being amplified by Jamaican consumers and businesses, as well as some political leaders, has already petered out.

Lok Jack's comments have clearly undermined whatever was addressed at that meeting. Moreover the responses from the Trinidad prime minister, as well as her security minister, send a signal that we are being held in complete contempt while T&T manufacturers gets richer each day. Meanwhile, all we do is talk.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com


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