That Trinidad products boycott call...how can we fix Caricom?Monday, April 11, 2016
The recent suggestion by Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President William Mahfood that Jamaican consumers should boycott the purchase of goods imported from Trinidad and Tobago has produced mixed reactions all round.
Mahfood’s comment comes in the wake of the recent denial of entry of more than a dozen Jamaicans who had travelled to that country, resulting in them returning home to Jamaica under a cloud. This is not the first instance in which Jamaicans have been forcefully repatriated from Trinidad and Tobago, and I am reliably informed that more than 150 Jamaicans have been similarly treated over the last year. In fact, Trinidad isn’t the only island to mete out this type of treatment to Jamaicans, as a couple of years ago one Shanique Myrie’s cruel detention and mistreatment on arrival in Barbados resulted in the successful institution of legal proceedings against the Barbados authorities.
Jamaican travellers throughout the region will tell you that Trinidad and Barbados are not the only culprits, as Antigua, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are equally guilty of this practice of profiling other Caribbean nationals. In addition to Jamaicans, nationals from Guyana are subject to similar treatment and, for these nationals, Jamaicans, by way of their penchant for being vociferous, help to amplify the existence of this practice, which, in fact, runs contrary to a fundamental element of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (2001), the free and unimpeded access to movement of nationals within the region.
Interestingly, it was the very Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) — which Jamaica has failed to give effect to — that successfully heard and allowed Myrie’s case; the very same CCJ that the Jamaica Labour Party, while in Opposition, had refused to ratify. Ratification, let me point out, provides legislative support for elements of various Caricom treaties, including the Revised Treaty of Chagauramas, especially the much-needed strengthening of the Regional Negotiating Machinery so that contentious issues affecting trade within the regional grouping can be conducted without impediments.
For the record, Caricom came into existence in 1973 with the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas ,and its primary intention was the creation of a single market and economy replacing the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) which, at the time, only included a handful of Caribbean states such as British Guiana, Barbados and Antigua. This would expand to include Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, Anguilla, St Lucia, and Montserrat by 1971. Today, Caricom is comprised of 15 member states with Suriname, which became the 14th Member State of the Caribbean Community on July 4, 1995, and Haiti, which secured provisional membership on July 4, 1998 and on July 3, 2002, became the first French-speaking Caribbean State to become Caricom’s 15th full member.
The value of Caricom to its member states is to facilitate the ease with which goods and services move between its member countries as well as its essential element, the free movement of Caricom nationals throughout the region. After several revisions over the last 20 years, with the last revision done in 2001, one does not even need a passport to travel within the region. That was the spirit and the intent of the legislation. The fact is that, along with Trinidad and Barbados, there are a number of other states that equally do not honour the spirit of the actual legislation which is the seminal contributing factor to the instances of denial of entry of some nationals at their various ports of entries.
From a trade standpoint, Jamaica is Caricom’s largest market and it is by extension the largest market for Trinidadian manufactured goods. For some time now, though, trade between Trinidad and Jamaica has largely been a one-way activity, where our own manufactured goods do not have the same access that the Trinidadian goods have to Jamaican markets. Both Trinidad and Barbados have established considerable hurdles to slow or otherwise impede the entry of Jamaican products into their markets, while Jamaican markets remain completely open. These actions, coupled with the arbitrary detention and repatriation of Jamaicans from their shores, represent a flagrant disregard for the provisions of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, as well as the complete disregard for dialogue between governments; and it does appear that only when action is threatened, or is taken, that hits the productive sector of these countries in their bank accounts, that their governments may see the need to change their current behaviour.
While I believe that executing such threats may work to the detriment of whatever exists of Caricom, I do believe that the time has long passed for the political directorate within the respective territories to get off their butts and exorcise the long-haunting demons of insularity that have prevented regional political leadership from working towards a singular economic goal.
Mahfood’s call has been described by some as political in intent, as he may not have expressed similar sentiments last year when the People’s National Party Administration had to address similar issues throughout its stewardship, and there may just be some seeming semblance of truth in such an assessment. It would be to his credit, though, if he were to use his political clout to nudge this Government into giving effect to the CCJ, which is the best instrument with which a final resolution of this issue may be had. Only the inane or otherwise uninformed could believe that Caricom is of no benefit to Jamaica with its current 15 million population (soon to be over 30 million with the pending admission of Cuba and the Dominican Republic). This is not the time to be using the issue as a political football, but rather the time to find meaningful, workable and long-term solutions.
In this respect, I am challenging the new Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith to bring all her energies to bear in reaching a positive resolution to this issue as successive ministers have failed dismally over the years.
Jamaica’s best asset is its people and free movement throughout the region is the best way for any Government to provide for them to take advantage of their individual skill sets. Emigration, after all, has always been a feature of human development and in a world being made smaller with the deepening developments in technology, emigration is purely a natural outgrowth and part of the element of human interdependence and development. Most developed countries owe their development partly to the efforts of immigrants who bring skills in that would have been previously non-existent, or to provide labour for tasks that are economically unfeasible for local residents.
In the circumstances, opposition to the free movement of Caribbean people is the product (primarily) of absolute ignorance, as is any plan to boycott imports from countries. For immigration officials to rely on the argument that Jamaicans coming into Trinidad, etc, are importing or otherwise transferring their criminality into that island is insulting, to say the least. That is not to say that some Jamaicans that visit that domain may not be guiltless, but I submit that such an assessment is both lazy and undiplomatic. In every respect such a behaviour stokes reactive responses from our own people, yet our own immigration authorities do not operate in such a manner.
It is true that Jamaicans who are fleeing the economic malaise that resides here are, in fact, pursuing all available channels to find gainful employment, and moving throughout the region is one such avenue for those unable to land a US, Canadian or United Kingdom visa. Emigration is the basis on which people attempt to better themselves when their own home country is unable to provide such opportunities. In fact, Haitians have actually rewritten those rules by venturing as far south as Brazil, where only recently some 40,000 of them were made Brazilian citizens after journeying to that country to find jobs in the wake of the construction for both the 2014 World Cup and the upcoming Rio Olympic Games.
Richard Hugh Blac
kford is a self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Coral Springs, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica.
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