FORMER Prime Minister P J Patterson says Jamaica's trade deficit with non-Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries deserves as much attention as that being given to the imbalance with the regional bloc.
"Recently, there have been expressions of righteous indignation on the large trade deficit with Caricom, particularly Trinidad and Tobago. There is good reason to be concerned about this imbalance, but the size of our adverse trade with non-Caricom countries deserves no less attention," Patterson said Monday night.
He was speaking at the launch of Caribbean Challenges, a collection of speeches and papers by former Commonwealth Secretary General
Sir Shridath Ramphal, at the Mona Visitors' Lodge, University of the West Indies (UWI).
In an obvious reference to recent criticisms from within Jamaica about the imbalance in trade between Jamaica and its Caricom partners, Patterson, guest speaker at the launch, noted that, within the last two months, "the siren sounds of separatism have become shrill and increasingly perturbing".
"To ignore them altogether is an unwarranted risk the region can ill afford," he cautioned.
He pointed out that Jamaica's entry into Caricom was spearheaded by the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA), and not by "the post-Independence Cabinet" which, he said, was "hugely sceptical of any semblance of regional cooperation".
"To find meaningful solutions, we must not confine our search to a few limited areas, and certainly not just to trade in goods," he stated.
He said that the JMA, and its individual members, attended meetings at the highest ministerial levels at Caricom, including technical working groups and small policy cabals, and were involved with issues such as the Common External Tariff (CET) and the harmonisation of fiscal incentives or industrial allocation.
He stated that Jamaica's imports from Caricom, primarily Trinidad and Tobago, averaged 14 per cent of its total imports between 2000 and 2006. But, while the trade deficit increased over the period, the weight of the adverse balance of payments and balance of trade impact was seven times greater from the extra-regional trade.
"It is absolutely necessary for Jamaica to reduce its goods trade deficit with Caricom, but it is even more vital to decrease it with the rest of the world," he insisted.
Jamaica's trade deficit with its trading partners in 2011 was approximately US$5 billion, an increase of close to $1 billion compared to 2010. This was due to an increase of US$1.28 billion in imports during the year, compared to an increase of US$288 million in exports. The trade deficit with Caricom was US$957 million, an increase of US$154 million.
There have been howls recently by the local private sector about what they have described as unfair trade practices by Trinidad and Tobago against Jamaica.
Former minister of industry and commerce and current opposition spokesman on transport, works and infrastructure development, Karl Samuda, has insisted that "there can be no relationship (with Caricom), at least not a healthy one, without reciprocity".
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller told a post-Budget briefing at Jamaica House recently that her administration has no intention of severing ties with Caricom. However, Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips told the same briefing that Simpson Miller has directed that a comprehensive review be done on Jamaica's trading relationship with Caricom.
He said the Government is mindful of the "considerable" benefits which have accrued to Jamaica from its involvement with Caricom and still believes in the concept of regionalism, but not at the expense of Jamaica's interests.