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No good in boycotting goods from T&T, Jamaica, says Caricom official

BY NADINE WILSON Observer staff reporter wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, December 16, 2013    

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A senior Caribbean Community (Caricom) official has suggested that a planned boycott of goods from either Trinidad and Tobago or Jamaica would not help the development of the region.

Caricom assistant secretary general in charge of human and social development Dr Douglas Slater was speaking against the background of the recent denial of entry of 13 Jamaicans into Trinidad, which he described as "unfortunate and should not be repeated".

The Jamaicans were turned away from the Piarco airport, Port of Spain last month, for allegedly failing to meet immigration requirements, and since that time several lobby groups locally and within the Diaspora have been calling for the boycott of goods produced by Trinidad.

However, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer at a UNFPA multi-stakeholder high-level consultation on the reduction of adolescent pregnancy in the Caribbean, which was held in Trinidad last week, Dr Slater said that he was not too worried about the knee-jerk reaction to this development, but he urged Jamaicans "to put a brake on calls to boycott".

"Let us slow down, let us take this thing a little bit more seriously and understand the implications. And let us solve the problems because they are not insurmountable — we have the ability to. We have worked on problems much bigger than that and we have succeeded, and we can and must solve these problems," Dr Slater said.

"A boycott of Trinidad goods by Jamaicans, or vice versa, is not going to help either of the countries nor the Caricom region, because one of the routes to development of the region is through increased trade," he said.

Dr Slater, who is a former minister of foreign affairs, foreign trade and consumer affairs for St Vincent and the Grenadines, said he was happy about the initiative made by Jamaica's Foreign Affairs minister A J Nicholson and Trinidad's Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran to discuss the thorny issue in Kingston following public outcry.

"I believe that, as a Caribbean people, we are going to have these challenges from time to time, but we must look at the bigger picture [and] work towards resolving our problem more amicably," Dr Slater suggested.

"I'm not too worried about it, quite frankly, I am optimistic. There will always be little hurdles in the way of development; the European Union who have been many years ahead of us, they still have challenges. It's just, I think, for us to be very aware of these challenges, to be sensitive to what our citizens may see, to inform them [and] educate them more," he said.

The Caricom official noted that the work of the Secretariat had often been misunderstood because of the misperception that it could implement policies. He said while the Secretariat can assist with putting together policies, it was the member states, which formed the executive arm of Caricom, that had the ability to implement them.

"...It is the member states, but sometimes that is missed. Take for example, the question of the Dominica Republic and Haiti, several heads of government, including and especially Prime Minister Gonsalves of the St Vincent and the Grenadines, made very strong statements on behalf of his country and Caricom," he said.

Dr Slater was alluding to a recent court ruling in Dominican Republic which could strip thousands of persons of Haitian descent of citizenship.

"The Secretariat is willing to be supportive of policies that will enhance the livelihood and the human development of our citizens; that's what we are there for. But we work in partnership and there are many bodies of the Secretariat that have worked together and we have had a lot of success stories in Caricom," he noted.

Among the success stories Dr Slater pointed to are the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC); the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) and the Caribbean Court of Justice which just recently delivered a landmark ruling in the case of Jamaican Shanique Myrie who is to be awarded BDS$77,240 (J$3,862,000) following a humiliating body-cavity search at the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados two years ago.

Dr Slater said the turning away of the Jamaicans from Trinidad was unfortunate, and has urged each member state to be very careful when making decisions at any level, especially in terms of immigration, "in light of the issues and the reaction that it can create and has created".

"I think that there might be some misunderstanding regarding the whole question of the free movement of people. The movement of people is the goal of the Caricom region, [but] I think free comes with some inverted commas [because] there is no total freedom," he said, adding: "I think all member states would like to have a situation where we can move around our countries much more hassle-free, but at the same time, we must recognise that there are certain security issues that if the member states feel are being infringed, they must maintain the right to act accordingly."

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