WHEN a mid-level official in the European Union (EU) bureaucracy can publicly threaten the combined governments of the CARIFORUM countries (Caricom plus the Dominican Republic), by declaring a trade dispute with this group of sovereign states, it is nothing short of a neo-colonial superiority complex.
In summary, what has been said is that Jamaica is in breach of its obligations under the European Union-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and that the EU could treat the issue as a dispute and refer the matter to arbitration.
The fact is that eight Caricom countries including Jamaica have failed to implement the tariff reductions which are part of the EPA.
The three-year grace period provided to CARIFORUM countries by the EPA came to an end in January, 2011, over a year and a half ago. The EU is therefore well within its rights to complain and if so inclined to take the appropriate actions permitted by the EPA.
But how should the statement of a bureaucrat of the EU be interpreted? It could be that the EU is sending a signal, but this is unlikely because it is too clumsy for a group of countries that practise sophisticated diplomacy. A message of such seriousness would be discreetly delivered at the highest political level.
It could be that the official, overcome by an uncontrollable narcissism, took it upon himself to publicly chastise the Government of Jamaica without clearance from his superiors in Brussels. If this is the case, it is a punishable offence and amounts to freelance neo-colonial hubris.
The old dictum "take sleep and mark death" applies. Jamaica and the other Caricom countries need to treat this as a wake-up call. The Caricom governments must engage the EU at the appropriate political level and ensure that their failure to implement the obligations of the EPA does not degenerate into a trade dispute requiring settlement through arbitration.
It is reasonable to expect that the EU will understand that non-compliance is merely an inadvertent delay caused by the harmful impact of the global economic crisis, and that given the extremely difficult fiscal situation of most of the Caricom countries it is necessary to postpone any measures which would result in loss of revenue. Such an explanation will get a sympathetic hearing from a bloc caught in its own devastating economic crisis.
Still, we need to make the point that it is foolhardy for Caricom not to meet its commitments in international agreements like the EPA without offering its partners an explanation on a timely basis. The leadership of the governments and the responsible regional organisations should never allow the region to be in a position of such embarrassment, especially since the appropriate joint institutional arrangements were convened during the course of this year.
We are well aware that apart from the possible punitive actions which the EU could take, there is serious reputational damage to Caricom at a time when the regional bloc needs all the goodwill it can muster.