A leading Caribbean brain and politician has thrown his weight behind a growing lobby of regional experts urging Jamaica to continue being an influential member of the Caribbean Community rather than looking north to other nations such as Cuba as its major trading partner.
Owen Arthur, a former prime minister of Barbados and the man many credited with pulling the trading aspects of the single market together, spent time in Jamaica in the past week trying to encourage Jamaican government and business leaders to remain hard-nosed about their commitment to CARICOM largely because its presence is so important to the integration movement.
Jamaican authorities and private sector officials have in recent years complained bitterly about the rules pertaining to the single trading market as being unfair and stacked against Jamaica as products from oil and gas-rich Trinidad have flooded its market while impediments and restrictions were placed on Jamaican exports to Trinidad.
Officials from both sectors have railed against the slow pace of dispute resolution regarding rules of trade, forcing the umbrella Private Sector Commission to urge islanders to boycott goods from Trinidad.
So bitter and pervasive is the feeling among private sector officials and many in the cabinet and administration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the head of government has established a commission to study and determine what actual benefits Jamaican gets from being a member of the group of 15 nations from Suriname on mainland South America to Belize in Central.
Arthur has even suggested that Jamaica should follow Barbados and become a full member of the umbrella, Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and use it to settle trade and other disputes rather than harp about unfair trading rules.
“To secure such relief, the full extent of such unfair practices need to be fully documented and presented to the appropriate agencies of CARICOM, including the CCJ,” Arthur told a panel discussion in Jamaica. “There is a very strong and compelling case for Jamaica to help to strengthen the Caribbean Single Market and Economy in its capacity as the best preferential market for the respective CARICOM states and to give strong and decisive leadership to the specific role that has been assigned to Jamaica in respect of regional trade diplomacy.”
This is not the first time that Jamaica, geographically way to the north in the community, has felt it necessary to look to nations nearer to it than those below it.
When an effort was made to form the West Indian Federation in 1958-62, Jamaican leaders at the time had organized a referendum to determine whether to continue being a member given the haggling about policies and the cumbersome nature of a single body governing so many different territories at one time. The vote to leave was overwhelming leading to the demise of the federation as Eric Williams of Trinidad reasoned that one from 10 left zero so it was better to collapse the federation as it did.
Today, Arthur is urging Jamaica not only to remain but to quickly become a CCJ member even though “CARICOM has come to appear as such a dismal failure that only a strong confidence-boosting measure will suffice to rescue it.”
Former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding is heading the commission reviewing the state of play in CARICOM to determine Jamaica’s way forward with it.