Let's decide, do we leave or go forward with Caricom?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

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This Tuesday, Jamaica gets what we believe may be a last chance to make up our minds whether we cut the umbilical cord between us and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and strike out alone on an uncertain future outside of the regional bloc.

Foreign Minister Arnold J Nicholson, very correctly in our view, has invited some of the best brains and leadership in Jamaica to engage with him on discussing how to move forward in our engagement with Caricom. We wholeheartedly endorse this act of wisdom typical of the minister.

That crucial meeting at Dominica Drive, New Kingston will be attended by the top echelons of the private sector, academia, civil society and Government. It will mark a watershed moment in our long journey from the failed West Indies Federation, the political union which was supposed to have been "good for the young and the old..."

Of a truth, we have been this way before, in respect of debates about whether Jamaica should ditch the 15-member regional bloc and its five associate members. The protagonists have always pointed to trade surpluses between Jamaica and other Caricom nations, notably Trinidad and Tobago with which the trade deficit is estimated at over $1.6 billion, as reason to leave.

Even despite our editorial of Friday, June 21, 2013 -- titled 'Caricom crabs in a barrel' -- we hold steadfast to the bigger picture of remaining in a regional grouping that gives us a market of over 16 million people -- not counting the Dominican Republic which is part of the bigger group, Cariforum -- as against our 2.7 million.

We have long been taught by our wise ancestors that there is strength in unity and that "one hand can't clap". In the shark-filled waters of modern globalisation and resurgent protectionism, we are far better off with our Caricom partners than if Jamaica had to go it alone.

Quarrelling about trade surpluses can never get us anywhere. Isn't trade surplus what every country wants? Surely, we are not suggesting that it's okay for any country that finds itself in a trade deficit with us to break off the relationship for that reason.

What we should be asking ourselves is, what has Trinidad and Tobago been doing to achieve its trade surplus with Jamaica. We know that T&T is blessed with oil and so has a big advantage when it comes to the cost of energy, the very thing that has been like a cancer in our economy.

Let's work with Trinidad to see how best we can benefit from our partnership in bringing down our energy costs. Expecting handouts from Trinidad is unrealistic and unproductive. We have to find mutually satisfactory and profitable arrangements that work.

If there are treaty-breaking obstacles being put in the way of our exports to Trinidad, let us expose them and work to get rid of them within the institutional arrangements for resolving such problems.

But we also have some things to do at home, including tax reform. Every country serious about growth has been finding ways to reduce taxes and provide incentives to export and for attracting foreign investment. In the area of tax reform we here have managed to find a problem for every suggested solution.

We sincerely hope that the Jamaican wisemen and women who will meet on Tuesday will throw off the old blinkers and knee-jerk reactions and take a fresh look at ways to make Caricom work for us.




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