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Ja should benefit more from CARICOM policy arrangement

Published:Sunday | April 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

I read The Gleaner's editorial dated Thursday, April 26 and have noted the contents therein. I must say, however, that you have missed my point.

At a recent sitting of the House of Representatives, based on an exchange of questions and answers I had with Minister Anthony Hylton, you have come to the conclusion that I have suggested that we leave CARICOM on the basis of our trade deficit, especially with Trinidad and Tobago.

That is not so, as my main concern had to do specifically with, as Minister Hylton agreed, the competitive advantage Trinidad and Tobago has in energy and the unlevel playing field to Jamaica's disadvantage.

Based on our CARICOM arrangements, the manufacturers of Trinidad and Tobago have privileged access to our market, the largest economy outside Trinidad and Tobago. It is privileged because it is duty-free and protected by a Common External Tariff, but also because the Jamaican market is a high-end consuming market.

The question is, why haven't our Jamaican manufactures, through the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), received in return the privilege of cheap natural-gas energy from Trinidad and Tobago?

Where is our benefit?

As I asked in Parliament: "... So the question is, if we were to have a level playing field, and as you say - for all players - why haven't we got the benefit the electricity producers of Trinidad have, of cheap gas prices for the generation of electricity?"

So wouldn't it only be fair that Jamaica, in this CARICOM arrangement, had access to natural gas at the same ex-factory price paid by Powergen and Trinity Power in Trinidad and Tobago?

Wouldn't it be fair that this competitive advantage be passed on, via JPS, to our Jamaican manufacturers?

Wouldn't you then probably see our products being as, or more, competitive than our counterparts from Trinidad and Tobago and the consequent level playing field and trade balance?

Sad state of affairs

Minister Hylton said: "You have business in Jamaica setting up business in Trinidad, taking advantage of whatever the benefits there are, and importing back into Jamaica ... . These are Jamaican companies taking advantage of the rules as they currently exist and as they operate." What a sad state of affairs.

So since we, the elected representatives of the people of Jamaica, are in the business of, among other things, putting in place policy that is in the best interest of our people, I ask once again, what has been the benefit of this policy arrangement with CARICOM for the people of Jamaica?

Trinidad & Tobago has privileged access to our market, so we want privileged access to their natural gas. As simple as that. Our Jamaican manufacturers deserve attention so they can be more competitive, grow, employ more Jamaicans and make a greater contribution to the nation's Treasury. No more talking; what we need is action. As I said, "Put Jamaica first." And yes, I am passionate when it comes to Jamaica.

GREGORY MAIR (MP)

Opposition Spokesman on Industry, Commerce and Energy

gregorymair@hotmail.com