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EDITORIAL - Manufacturers must make use of CCJ

Published:Monday | May 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM

There is a tinge of irony that Jamaican firms should be advised to follow the example of Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL). Which, in part, is what Milton Samuda advocates for those who claim to be victims of unfair trading practices in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). For CARICOM, read, primarily, Trinidad and Tobago.

Mr Samuda is the president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC). "You have a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and if you feel that your trading partner is acting in a way that is not in keeping with the [Revised] Treaty [of Chaguaramas], you have a clear remedy and you deal with it," he told editors of this newspaper at a forum last Friday.

The essence of the argument is that Jamaican firms should end the whingeing about whether Trinidad and Tobago unfairly subsidises its manufacturers and erects barriers against imports and, instead, get aggressive about market penetration themselves, including ensuring that Jamaica's CARICOM counterparts play by the rules. Herein lies the TCL example.

PUSHBACK AGAINST CET SUSPENSION

In 2008, when Guyana unilaterally suspended CARICOM's Common External Tariff (CET) on cement imports, TCL, through its Guyana subsidiary, first persuaded the CCJ that a firm, in the absence of a State pursuing that firm's rights under the CARICOM treaty, can, on its own, seek the intervention of the CCJ in protecting those interests. The CCJ agreed and eventually ruled against Guyana's unilateral action.

TCL, which owns the Jamaica-located Caribbean Cement Company, had separately, on the basis that it had the capacity to supply the market, challenged CARICOM's approval of requests by several member states, including Jamaica, for the suspension of the CET. In this case, it lost.

TCL is not the region's favourite company. The fundamental point, however, is that it was willing to use the next mechanism of the CARICOM treaty to ensure fairness in the evolving single market. Jamaicans have largely looked at this country's US$957.2-billion trade deficit with CARICOM - nearly 90 per cent accounted for Trinidad and Tobago - and oscillated between whimper and rage.

SEEK RECOURSE FROM CCJ

During the former People's National Party administration, Anthony Hylton, then the energy minister, harboured the idea of seeking from the CCJ a ruling on what obligation energy-self-sufficient Trinidad and Tobago had to sell energy, particularly natural gas, to its deficient CARICOM partners like Jamaica, and at what price. Mr Hylton is now in charge of industry and commerce and is well placed to pursue the broader issue of Port-of-Spain's fairness in the councils of CARICOM. That, however, would not preclude Jamaican firms with credible claims of breaches of the CARICOM treaty from pursuing them before the CCJ, acting in its original jurisdiction as interpreter of the agreement.

While pursuing legal remedy is one important option for Jamaica's exporters, there are other practical things for Jamaican exporters to CARICOM and elsewhere to do, like, as some have been doing, insisting on coherent economic policies and an efficient state that enhances the business environment. They will find, too, that there is no substitute for tramping markets, which, P.B. Scott of Musson Group, insists is not being done enough by Jamaican firms.

And, as Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson, the chairman of Continental Baking Company, reminded last week, neither is there a substitute for a quality product, reasonably priced. "We can't just say buy Jamaican. You have to tell me why," he said.

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