EDITORIAL - Maybe Jamaica should leave CARICOM
WE HAVE noted, with interest, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's declaration in Parliament on Tuesday that her People's National Party (PNP) administration will not abandon the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Rather, she said, her Government will "seek to revitalise the community", given its importance as "an important instrument in the management of our relations with the hemisphere and the rest of the world".
In the normal course of events, this newspaper would welcome the prime minister's statement, believing, as it does, that the potential product of CARICOM is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Moreover, as we have argued in the past, a fully engaged Jamaica in its role as political leader of the community is critical to CARICOM achieving its real potential.
However, given the deepening anti-CARICOM sentiment in this country - including among many in Mrs Simpson Miller's party - we increasingly question whether Jamaica wants a place in the community and ought not to seek its destiny elsewhere.
Or, if Kingston feels it worthwhile to be part of CARICOM's functional cooperation, it can walk way from its economic arrangements, which is the source of much of its angst. In that regard, its limited membership would put it in a place already occupied by The Bahamas.
In any event, Mrs Simpson Miller and her ministers, ahead of this attempt at revitalising CARICOM, should first engage in a full, frank and transparent discourse with the national constituency. For Jamaica's half-century-old ambivalence towards the community, which has persisted since it left the West Indies Federation, is good neither for itself nor CARICOM.
The truth be admitted, complaints in Jamaica about CARICOM is primarily code for Trinidad and Tobago and that country's big trade surplus with Kingston. Last year, for instance, more than 80 per cent of Jamaica's US$1.1 billion in imports from its CARICOM partners was from Trinidad and Tobago. We exported a mere US$68 million to the region.
Jamaican businesses complain that Trinidad and Tobago provides energy subsidies to its manufacturers, affording them an unfair competitive advantage. They say, too, that Port-of-Spain maintains non-tariff barriers against Jamaican products.
These sentiments have given rise to calls for Jamaica to take action against Trinidad and Tobago. Even the sober Joseph Matalon-led Private Sector Working Group has proposed the imposition of tariffs on CARICOM products, particularly those from Trinidad and Tobago, to raise $9.4 billion to help finance this year's budget. In the absence of unilaterally reneging on its obligations under Article 87 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, Jamaica would have to make a case to the CARICOM Council for a waiver of the rules.
Surprisingly, Jamaican businesses have not asked the Caribbean Court of Justice, in its role of interpreter of the treaty, to pronounce on Port-of- Spain's behaviour regarding the energy matter. Nor have they postulated a serious position on an energy policy within CARICOM.
Additionally, we feel that in the focus on CARICOM, not sufficient attention is being placed on policy failures in Jamaica that forged an uncompetitive economy. Tariffs on Trinidadian goods would just likely transfer the trade deficit outside the region.
We are partial to CARICOM, but there is no use staying if only a few want to.
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