OPPOSITION spokesperson on industry, commerce and energy, Gregory Mair, has recommended a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) and its Caribbean Community (Caricom) trading partners offering cheaper energy in exchange for continued market access, as the solution to current trade issues.
"Failing an undertaking from Trinidad, the Government must support our manufacturers by giving strong consideration to imposing a special duty on manufactured goods out of Trinidad," Mair said Wednesday as he spoke in the sectoral debate in the House of Representatives.
"Jamaica must level the playing field downwards, if T&T is unwilling to level it upwards," the Opposition MP said.
Recalling that he has often spoken on the need to examine Jamaica's trading arrangements with Caricom, Mair reinforced that the Opposition supported Caricom.
"We support Caricom, however, we believe the playing field is not level. Based on our Caricom arrangements, the energy subsidised energy goods of the manufacturers of Trinidad and Tobago have privileged access to our market, the largest economy outside of T&T. It is privileged because it is duty-free and protected by a Common External Tariff, but also because the Jamaican market is a high-end consuming market," he said.
"The question is why haven't our Jamaican manufactures received, in return, the privilege of access to cheap energy from T&T?" Mair asked.
He said that in 2011, Jamaica imported goods valued at US$672,361,991, including approximately US$$250 million in manufactured goods from Trinidad and Tobago, and exported goods valued at US$11,459,088.
"This is no anomaly, this is representative of the trading relationship between the two Caricom partners; hundreds of millions of dollars in purchases versus a mere US$11 million in sales," he explained.
Mair also noted that a former People's National Party minister of industry and commerce, manufacturer Claude Clarke, has written several articles on the need for Jamaica to establish a new basis for continued participation in regional trade.
Mair recommended that Jamaica create a mechanism, which ensures fair treatment for Jamaican manufacturers seeking to access the Trinidad and Tobago market, and create an MOU with that country for access to their fuel at the same ex-factory price as their electrical generation companies.
"We can no longer wait. It is time for us to review the trade arrangements with Caricom, and insist that the issues that have resulted in an imbalance, spanning four decades, are placed on the forefront of the agenda at every meeting of the region. We must insist on unencumbered access to Trinidad's market and access to its energy source," Mair insisted.