The simmering years-old row between Trinidad and Jamaica over the way Jamaicans are treated while visiting Trinidad is shifting from a row over free movement of Caribbean nationals into an all out trade war as Jamaica moves to retaliate against a neighbor it says is sometimes too arrogant and insensitive.
Jamaican authorities complain that about 50 Jamaican nationals have been summarily refused entry into Trinidad in recent months on suspicion that they were intended drug traffickers, prostitutes or were arriving to sweep local men off their feet and later obtain citizenship in the oil and gas-rich nation.
Tired of pleading with Trinidadian immigration officials to be more open minded and live with the fact that there is something called the free movement of people within the 15-nation single trading group, some sections of Jamaican society including the private sector think that the time has come to retaliate and hit the Trinidadians where it will hurt the most.
So radio Disc jockeys, some influential private sector players and local politicians have begun a spirited campaign to fight back at Trinidad by persuading Jamaicans to not only not buy Trinidadian products but to also remove them from supermarket shelves.
This situation has been playing out to growing levels of success as both Jamaican and Trinidadian media have published photos of supermarket shelves bereft of normally popular Trinidadian products such as milk and soda beverages.
Trinidadian Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon in addressing the issue said, “I am aware of one large business entity where the product has been taken off the shelf in Jamaica. You are not going to see the figures because this has been happening just over two weeks. I have been in touch with persons whose goods have not been imported and persons to whom sentiments have been expressed that at this time we are not buying from you.”
She has also said that local authorities are quite disappointed that the situation is beginning to resemble a war over products rather than an immigration issue but even as she spoke, there was a hint of Trinidadian arrogance as the minister just could not help boasting that Jamaicans have to buy Trinidadian products.
“The spectrum of goods produced by T&T is very wide and there are things that Jamaica needs and will obviously buy from us because we have the competitive advantage of buying within CARICOM,” she said.
Fatigued by the prolonged war which dates back to more than a decade when Trinidad did everything in its power to prevent Jamaica’s world renowned Beef Patties from Trinidadian supermarket shelves, former Jamaican Foreign Minister Anthony Hylton says the time has come for the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice to adjudicate on the matter as this is a key reason why the court was established.
“We are still using the megaphone to shout to each other across the Caribbean. I believe that that matter should appropriately be brought before the CCJ at an appropriate time,” Hylton told a Rotary Club forum this week. His remarks were carried quite prominently by the Jamaica Observer.
In the past week, there appeared a glimmer of hope on the horizon as Port of Spain made it clear it was moving to address fears by Jamaica and other countries about unfair treatment by immigration offices and prejudice in how they handle arrivals from particular countries including Guyana.
Customer service training for airport staff is being planned for this month “specifically targeting officers who interact with passengers who are denied entry; and retro-fit a dedicated facility for those who are denied entry,” reported the Trinidad Express.
The row even made it all the way to a recent regional trade ministers meeting in Guyana. They have planned to follow up the issue and mediate if necessary.