All for one
Strengthening Caricom, forging new togethernessSunday, June 06, 2021
Jamaica is a signatory to the Re vised Treaty of Chaguaramas (2001) for a Caricom Single Market Economy (CSME). Simply put, the CSME was envisioned to enable the free movement of capital, skills, goods, and services, and the right of establishment within the region.
By January 2006 Jamaica and other member states (except The Bahamas and Montserrat) commenced the implementation of the CSME protocols and ratified the Free Movement of Skilled Persons Act, which allowed for the movement of skilled nationals in 10 approved categories. Subsequently, Caricom heads gave the approval and mandated members of the treaty to implement all outstanding actions on the CSME within four years. Regrettably, to date, there has been limited progress in this area.
In July 2016 Prime Minister Andrew Holness appointed the Caricom Review Commission chaired by former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding. The terms of reference of the commission, among other things, was “to evaluate the effects that Jamaican participation in Caricom had on its economic growth and development with particular reference to trade in goods and services, investment, international competitiveness, and employment” (Commission to review Jamaica's relations within the Caricom and CARIFORUM frameworks, March 2017).
There were fundamental questions the Golding Commission sought to answer. Mainly, should Jamaica stay in Caricom or 'JEXIT?' And, if we were to stay, should our participation be all-encompassing or limited to just political membership? It was an instructive report with comprehensive and relevant insights for the region's overall trade regulatory convergence with 33 overall recommendations for the CSME.
Among the recommendations was the responsibility for member states to allow the unrestricted movement of Caricom nationals, excluding those who posed security and public-health risks. Additionally, Jamaica was to seek a specific actionable and time-bound matrix for member states to fulfil all outstanding requirements for the establishment of a fully functional CSME within five years.
For my own deliberations, I went and sat with Golding back then, who made it very clear that the time was past urgent for heads of governments in the region to act and take personal responsibility for ensuring that the “organs” of Caricom worked. That the strengthening of the secretariat's financial and operational work was compulsory, and an entire recalibration of our intra-regional trading arrangements within the structure was crucial to engage the region's private sector.
This is why it is surprising that after the report was tabled in the House of Representatives on February 6, 2018, and debated on June 19, 2018, that three years later we are no closer to implementing these recommendations. Moreover, we have before us yet another report calling for the free movement of goods and services within member states: Caribbean 9.58 — Speeding Up The Caribbean” (Caricom Commission on the Economy, March 2021).
Caricom was formed in 1973 to improve regional integration in a politically polarised world. This body, now comprising 15 member states, was created around the same time that the developed nations of the world established the Group of Seven (G7). The world has changed dramatically since the early 1970s. Back then the G7 countries were the top seven, world's largest manufacturers and exporters. They still represent a little more than 46 per cent of global gross domestic product, with Canada, the United Kingdom and Italy no longer enjoying top seven status. Today, China holds the number one position (by a wide margin) as the world's largest exporter.
On the face of it, our Caricom population numbers are minimal, but as one block we represent eight per cent of the world's nations. More importantly, in a global economy in which principled positions are being reversed and eroded daily, politically and economically, in deference to “might is right”, smaller countries with small populations are better off standing together, rather than standing alone. Therefore, it is vital that our collective voices do not disappear. Within this context, Jamaica must, once again, play a meaningful, proactive role to strengthen, unify and lead a modern recalibrated Caricom and align ourselves with the emerging economic prowess of our allies in Africa and Asia.
If we are honest, we must acknowledge that in Caricom there still exist several non-tariff barriers despite all the mandates, approvals and recommendations. For example, in Trinidad and Tobago (TT), the Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires any company or individual operating outside of their jurisdiction to pay for any asset in an international currency. In a true single market, this would not exist, as any Barbadian company could borrow funds in TT dollars for the purchasing of any valuable asset. Furthermore, throughout the region, the export of agricultural produce or food from one member state to another still requires agricultural permits. These permits can be denied for a variety of reasons.
In 1979 the European Court of Justice ruled that, even if a product failed to meet the technical specifications of another country within the European Union, once it did not pose a threat to the public health or public interest there were to be no barriers preventing its entry for sale. This was the case with 'Cassis De Dijon', which was produced and sold in France and later permitted into Germany as a result of the courts ruling (Caricom Commission on the Economy, March 2021).
All the reports that I have read recognise that strengthening our Caricom bond is dependent on achieving true economic integration and eliminating barriers to entry for capital, labour, and goods. Our solutions have always been obvious, but delay is the deadliest form of denial.
For too long, as declared by Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth secretary general: “We have crept through the fractured promises of the Treaty of Chaguaramas and Declaration of Grand Anse, and through fractured promises, innumerable pious declamations, affirmations and commitments the roll call of unfulfilled promises and unimplemented decision are staggering and shameful.”
There can be no CSME in the absence of regulatory convergence or mutual recognition arrangements, like in the European Union, to minimise inconsistencies and lessen trade and border restrictiveness. In the long run, it is in the interest of all the people in the Caricom to have unrestricted access to the best products, skills, and services available within our own region. Accordingly, the recommendations of the Golding Report need to be implemented without further delay in tandem with the “12-Point Plan In Response to COVID-19” from the Caricom Commission on the Economy.
It is time for Caricom to lead, focusing on building our exports and breaking down the non-tariff barriers that currently exist. I believe our future lies in expanding Caricom, not reducing it, and therein lies an opportunity for Jamaica to offer enlightened leadership. Let us work on strengthening the region, forging a new togetherness that boldly signals to the world that we are finally serious.
Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People's People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.
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