Jamaica urged to remain in trade bloc

Bert Wilkinson | 11/24/2016, midnight
The man credited with pulling the single market trading aspects of the Caribbean Community together is leading an effort by ...
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The man credited with pulling the single market trading aspects of the Caribbean Community together is leading an effort by people of influence in the region to urge Jamaica to remain a key and leading member of the family of nations.

Owen Arthur, a former prime minister of Barbados, spent time in Jamaica in the past week lobbying leaders to think long and hard about whether the island nation should look south to its mostly English-speaking neighbors or more to places such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic as some leaders have suggested.

Jamaican authorities and private sector officials have in recent years complained about the rules pertaining to the single trading market being unfair and stacked against Jamaica as products from oil- and gas-rich Trinidad have flooded its market, but impediments and restrictions were placed on Jamaican exports to Trinidad.

Officials from both sectors have railed against the slow pace of dispute resolution regarding the rules of trade, forcing the umbrella Private Sector Commission to urged islanders to boycott goods from Trinidad.

So bitter is the feeling among private sector officials and many in the cabinet and administration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the head of government has established a commission to study and determine what actual benefits Jamaican gets from being a member of the bloc of 15 nations from Suriname on mainland South America to Belize in Central America.

Arthur has even suggested that Jamaica should follow Barbados and become a full member of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice and use it to settle trade and other disputes.

“To secure such relief, the full extent of such unfair practices need to be fully documented and presented to the appropriate agencies of CARICOM, including the CCJ,” Arthur told a panel discussion in Jamaica. “There is a very strong and compelling case for Jamaica to help to strengthen the Caribbean Single Market and Economy in its capacity as the best preferential market for the respective CARICOM states and to give strong and decisive leadership to the specific role that has been assigned to Jamaica in respect of regional trade diplomacy.”

This dispute is not the first time Jamaica, geographically way to the north in the community, has felt the need to look to nations nearer to it.

When an effort was made to form the West Indian Federation in 1958-62, Jamaican leaders at the time had organized a referendum as to whether to continue being a member, given the haggling about policies and the cumbersome nature of a single body governing so many different territories at one time. The vote to leave was overwhelming, causing the demise of the federation.

Today, Arthur is urging Jamaica to not only remain but also quickly become a CCJ member, even though, in Arthur’s words, “CARICOM has come to appear as such a dismal failure that only a strong confidence-boosting measure will suffice to rescue it.”

Former Jamaican prime minister Bruce Golding is heading the commission reviewing the state of play in CARICOM to determine Jamaica’s way forward with it.