The question of Caricom

The question of Caricom

Saturday, July 16, 2016

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Caricom, the Caribbean Community, has been placed under the microscope. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has established a large committee, representing various interests, to consider questions relating to Jamaica’s participation in the regional economic grouping. This will require a careful examination of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, as contemplated by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

The review ordered by Prime Minister Holness should not have come as a surprise. In its 2016 Manifesto, the Jamaica Labour Party promised, at page 39, to undertake a clinical re-examination of Jamaica’s role within Caricom. The Manifesto further emphasised that: "Nothing short of a comprehensive assessment of our Caricom membership is required at this time."


No doubt, in its comprehensive assessment of Jamaica’s Caricom’s membership, the review commission will consider a wide range of factors, as contemplated by the terms of reference presented by the Prime Minister. One set of factors will, in all likelihood, concern Brexit, not only because this is topical, but also because it carries lessons and implications for us.

Perhaps the first lesson from Brexit is that regionalism ought not to be a "top-down" imposition. Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973 without a vote on the subject, but after considerable public discussion. Indications are that, in terms of economics, Britain has benefited substantially from the union, and that the younger generation in Britain, which voted heavily to remain in the EU, has generally appreciated the benefits of the union.

Most members of the governing Conservative Party (including Prime Minister Cameron and many of his Cabinet colleagues), as well as people in the upper echelons of the Labour Party also opposed Brexit. They were joined in their opposition by the Scottish National Party, the EU itself, the Bank of England and major corporate entities. And yet, approximately 51.9 per cent of the British electorate disregarded their advice.


A related set of lessons from Brexit concerns leadership and the significance of the democratic will. At the time of establishment of a regional economic grouping, it is not likely that many citizens will have strong opinions on the viability of the regional plan. We will all hope that the regional measures contemplated will bring greater employment, greater availability of goods at lower prices, infusions of capital, and increased export prospects. But, save for those on the economic front lines, it will be a matter of conjecture whether the promised benefits of integration will be materialised.

In this context, we tend to rely on leadership for guidance in the initial stages of the integration movement. But quite soon enough, some of us will have experience with the regional economic arrangements and will begin to form opinions. In the case of Britain, the "Leave" voters reportedly found that migration increases, the influx of refugees, employment pressures, and challenges with social services were sufficiently problematic to justify departure. Brexit reminds us, therefore, that there will come a time when the majority will on integration has to be respected.


Thirdly, Brexit underlines the fact that there will be winners and losers arising from economic integration efforts. On one reading of the Brexit vote, the "Leave" campaign was motivated by the fact that globalisation has created special challenges for people who cannot react flexibly to fundamental changes in the world economy. Thus, the argument runs, if you fear unemployment arising from the shift from manufacturing to services in your economy, you may be likely to oppose economic integration as part of a protest against change.

The reality is that integration will suit low-cost producers over high-cost ones. It will also favour people who are sufficiently educated and skilled to adjust to new market requirements, and it will favour people who are willing to travel to other countries to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. This, I believe, tends to explain the intergenerational differences manifested in the Brexit vote.


And, fourthly, Brexit brings home the point that, in assessing the value of a regional integration project, we should remain mindful of the broad view. It will always be easy to identify specific problems with the scheme: it may be allowing too many migrants, it may not be doing enough to promote exports, and so on.

These factors should not be weighed in isolation; rather, they should be considered as part of a cost-benefit analysis, which balances disadvantages for some countries against the advantages which those countries derive from the same scheme. The general fuss, possible remorse, and uncertainty prompted by the Brexit vote should encourage others to weigh advantages and disadvantages carefully before acting.


Against this background, what are some of the main issues that Jamaica may wish to consider in its assessment of our participation in Caricom? It may be useful to ask, as a preliminary matter, briefly to examine the purposes of Caricom and the Caricom Single Market and Economy. This will help us to understand Jamaica’s primary objectives in pursuing the Caricom agenda.

So, therefore, what is Caricom for? Article 6 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas sets out a long list of at least nine Caricom objectives. These include, among other things:

(a) Improved standards of living and work;

(b) Full employment of labour and other factors of production;

(c) Accelerated co-ordinated and sustained economic development and convergence;

(d) Expansion of trade and economic relations with third States;

(e) Enhanced levels of international competitiveness;

(f) Organisation for increased production and productivity;

(g) The achievement of greater economic leverage and effectiveness in dealing with other states;

(h) Enhanced co-ordination of member states’ foreign and [foreign] economic policies; and

(i) Enhanced functional cooperation.

Starting with this general foundation as objectives, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas proceeds, in 240 articles, to give details on how the Caricom Single Market and Economy is to operate. So, for example, Article 7 of the Treaty prohibits discrimination on grounds of nationality (subject to certain exceptions), and requires each Caricom member to give "most favoured nation" status to every other Caricom member.


For the achievement of Caricom’s objectives, the treaty also establishes various institutional arrangements. These include the Conference of Heads of Government, the Community Council of Ministers, the Council for Finance and Planning, the Council for Trade and Economic Development, the Council for Foreign and Community Relations, and the Council for Human and Social Development.

Any analysis of the objectives of Caricom should acknowledge that the scheme is extraordinarily ambitious. It concentrates on economic factors, and reaches - quixotically, one could argue - for full employment not only of labour, but of other factors of production. The objectives also reach for better living standards, more trade, greater competitiveness, and greater productivity.

These are all valuable objectives; they have, however, proven to be significant challenges for all Caricom countries from well before the post-colonial period. We should not expect, therefore, that merely by listing them as objective, they will be brought any closer to fruition. More importantly, the problem with listing over ambitious goals, such as full employment for all factors of production, is that when we fail to reach them, this may firmly discredit the integration scheme.


The gap between Caricom’s ambition and realisation of its objectives prompts important questions about implementation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. For example, some manufacturers in Jamaica complain strongly that Trinidad and Tobago is not respecting rules concerning subsidies. The net effect, the Jamaican manufacturers say, is that Trinidad and Tobago may sell their goods more cheaply in Jamaica and elsewhere, and thus, beat out the Jamaican competition within the Caricom market.

The Caricom review ordered by Prime Minister Holness may make a valuable contribution in this area, for it should be able to ascertain whether or not Trinidad and Tobago is offering non-discriminatory treatment to other Caricom nationals in respect of subsidies.

The review commission may have challenges obtaining all the necessary information, for some of the information may be held by private companies, but one assumes that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will cooperate fully with the review commissions efforts to ferret out the relevant facts.


Still, with respect to implementation, the review commission could also consider the extent to which the institutional mechanisms of Caricom, such as the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), assist in resolving problems identified by Caricom nationals.

Specifically, if there is a problem about subsidies, the Commission should ascertain whether a complaint was made to Caricom and what steps were taken, or not taken, by the relevant Caricom authority. The commission should also consider whether other non-Jamaican Caricom nationals have reported problems relating to the treatment of subsidies to Caricom. The number and nature of the complaints, the institutional responses, and the level of satisfaction associated with those responses will provide Jamaica with guidance concerning possible solutions to the problem.

In this regard, it should also be recalled that the COTED is not the only institutional mechanism to address questions of discrimination in relation to trade. For one thing, the Heads of Government themselves could address the issues, and should be encouraged to do so publicly so that we may all form an opinion on the fairness of the responses given to national complaints.


For another, in the case of all trade disputes, it is open to complaining states and their nationals to pursue different dispute settlement procedures afforded by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Based on publicity given to the Shanique Myrie case, many of us know that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is open to us with complaints relating to trade issues. So, this avenue is available.

But the review commission may wish to consider if there may be reluctance on the part of some entities to pursue remedies through the CCJ. And, if in fact some entities are reluctant to approach the court, the review commission could ascertain why. It may be that companies perceive the court as too distant, or that bringing cases to the court may be too expensive.

It may also be that the attitude taken by the Jamaica Labour Party to the appellate jurisdiction of the court has created some uncertainty about the position of the Government towards the court in its original jurisdiction. Companies may be uncertain about garnering Government backing if they approach the court. This may need to be clarified.


The review commission may also wish to clarify, for the benefit of the public, there are alternative means of dispute settlement open to companies or individuals with complaints. True, the court is the most authoritative, but there are other means of achieving justice. Article 188 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas lists these means as, in addition to adjudication, good offices, mediation, consultations, conciliation and arbitration.

It is worth considering why Jamaican entities with complaints — sometimes raised in the media — do not take the next step to pursue some of the available means of resolution. It may be that they do not expect fair treatment, or it may be that they have privately pursued remedies and have been disappointed. The review commission could be helpful in bringing this matter to public attention.


In the recent debate concerning Caricom in Jamaica, there have been strong complaints concerning the treatment of Jamaican nationals at the Piarco Airport in Trinidad and Tobago. These complaints raise at least three issues for consideration by the review commission.

First, what are the conditions under which individuals are detained before being sent back to Jamaica? In the Shanique Myrie Case, the CCJ did not award damages to Ms Myrie for the seriously abusive and degrading treatment that she allegedly received from the Barbadian authorities. But this is not to say that the law allows State authorities to treat individuals badly.

The accusations relating to conditions at Piarco suggest that Jamaicans have to sleep in the airport terminal with limited or no access to bathroom facilities. Prime Minister Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago has intimated that his Government will address this problem, and so, hopefully, it will lose its sting soon.

Free Movement

Secondly, the review commission will need to examine the treaty rules concerning free movement of people within Caricom, and compare those rules with the requirements of immigration legislation in the individual Caribbean states. In relation to Jamaicans turned back from Trinidad and Tobago, the core question is whether the immigration officers were justified in reaching their conclusions about the ineligibility of the travellers to enter Trinidad and Tobago?

We may need a mechanism to resolve this question before Jamaicans make the 1,000-mile journey to Trinidad and Tobago. Pre-screening at Norman Manley may be the solution?


Thirdly, the decision to turn back Jamaicans from Piarco has raised the question whether the free movement rules in the treaty should be amended. Article 45 of the treaty states that, "Member states commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the community."

This is then reinforced by Article 46, which assures the right to seek employment to university graduates, media workers, sportspersons, artistes and musicians is recognised as such by the receiving states.

In light of the Piarco debate, it has been suggested, most recently by Mr David Wan, president of the Jamaica Employers Federation, that this should be broadened to include others. This will be a question for the review commission; we should note, however, that Jamaica, with the largest potential workforce among the Anglophone Caribbean countries, probably benefits the most from Article 46 at present. So, in the assessment of advantages and disadvantages of Caricom for Jamaicans, this should be in the positive column, even if the categories identified are not expanded.


The Piarco debate has also prompted another stream of analysis led by the President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica. William Mahfood has argued, broadly speaking, that the bad treatment Jamaicans received at Piarco should be met with countermeasures. And the particular countermeasure to be applied should be a boycott of goods from Trinidad and Tobago.

Perhaps Mr Mahfood’s arguments has prompted Port of Spain to take Jamaica seriously. As a matter of policy, countermeasures in the form of a trade boycott could be effective, but it may not be necessary to use the sledgehammer; and as a matter of law, the countermeasure proposed may be disproportionate.


The review commission may need to consider the fundamental question of whether Jamaica has the political will to remain in Caricom. On this general point, the particular problems faced by some Jamaican entities will be a factor, but it cannot be decisive, for these problems may be resolved by specific action within the context of Caricom.

Other factors that need to be placed in the equation may be mentioned briefly. One of these relates to the original economic idea behind Caricom. Caricom allows its member states to pool their resources in order to enjoy economies of scale. Thus, Caricom companies may come together to produce more goods for export to the international market.

Also, Caricom provides a larger market for Jamaican producers and for producers from other member states. Admittedly, the market size is still limited, but, for Jamaican producers, it is larger than the Jamaican market on its own.

There is also the political argument in favour of having common positions on various foreign policy issues. As a group working together, Caricom numbers 14 states at the United Nations and within the Organization of American States. Our number and collective negotiating efforts help to account for some of the influence we have in international relations.

But, the Caricom sceptic may argue, we still have the capacity to work together even if we are not in Caricom. This is correct, but if Jamaica leaves Caricom on the grounds that it is not useful for us, there is no guarantee that our views will be respected by our former counterparts. This idea is being considered under the heading "contagion" in the context of Brexit.


On a related point, the review commission will need carefully to consider the reactions that may follow any attempt by Jamaica to withdraw from Caricom. Our sovereignty will allow us to go. It may well be, however, that other countries prefer to work with us as part of the Caricom grouping. Cooperation in matters such as the fight against drug trafficking, education, combating corruption, and justice sector reform may be facilitated by group effort.

On the other side, however, the degree of harmonisation anticipated from the "Single Economy" may well prove irksome for the Jamaican authorities, and we may find that the costs for official travel for various meetings are not worth the pain. Some Jamaicans may also argue that Caricom, in existence since 1973, has not done enough to become a part of the national landscape.


Finally, in the general assessment, one may recall that the Michael Manley Government took Jamaica into Caricom, but firmly disavowed that this was an attempt towards Federation by the back door. Since then, the PNP — under the leadership of PJ Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller — has been firmly supportive of Caricom. The JLP under Edward Seaga, in contrast, was on the sceptical side for clearly articulated economic reasons.

There is, in other words, a political background to the debate. And if one Government withdraws from Caricom without preparing the country for this, then it is quite possible that the other Government could bring it right back in.

Stephen Vasciannie CD is a Professor of International Law at the University of the West Indies, and a former Jamaica Ambassador to the USA and the Organization of American States.


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