Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has made a direct appeal to Jamaica to stay and work towards the development of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Speaking in Kingston Wednesday, Arthur acknowledged that economic concerns were at the heart of the present debate over Kingston’s membership in the regional grouping.
However, he argued that even though Barbados was doing better than Jamaica in terms to trade within CARICOM, there was nothing stopping Kingston from also making the region its oyster.
Giving his assessment of Jamaica’s Continuing Membership in CARICOM at the Faculty of Law at the Mona Campus, Arthur acknowledged that whereas Barbados exported EC$450 million (US$166 million) to CARICOM states in 2014, Jamaica only sold EC$242 million (US$89 million), or about six per cent of its merchandise exports to the region, which he said was partly because Jamaica’s competitive position and its enterprises were affected by the treatment of subsidies, monopolies and state-owned enterprises in other parts of the CARICOM market.
However, Arthur, a trained economist, argued there were sufficient provisions within the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas – the agreement that established CARICOM – to afford Jamaica and its enterprises “remedy and relief” from any such unfair practices.
“On the face of it, there would therefore seem to be no compelling case in support of any decision by Jamaica to end its participation in CARICOM on the grounds that the country and its economic agencies are the victims of, and subject to, widespread discriminatory or unfair practices on the part of other countries in the region for which it has no remedy nor relief,” Arthur said.
“Rather, there is a very strong and compelling case for Jamaica to help to strengthen the CSME [CARICOM 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 CARICOM’s trade diplomacy.”
He reminded those who would rather focus on Kingston’s relative disadvantage in CARICOM that it was enterprises and not countries that compete, as he drew attention to Jamaican success stories in CARICOM at the enterprise level.
Without referring to any businesses by name, he pointed out that “effort has been made to implement business strategies that are centred around building regional partnerships, adapting products to the peculiar taste of target markets and building regional supply chains” while stressing that Jamaica’s future in CARICOM may therefore come to depend more “on how enterprises fashion new business strategies to make the region their oyster rather than on what the government of Jamaica does in fashioning new treaty relationships”.
Arthur also underscored the importance of CARICOM maintaining a strong voice in external trade relations, saying this “perhaps constitutes the most important reason why Jamaica must remain fully engaged in CARICOM”.
He warned that a major global economic shift was about to take place as a result of the emergence of mega trade blocs which, by their diversity and incorporation of disciplines and programmes, go way beyond the current frameworks of the World Trade Organization.
“If they come into existence, their goods will enter each other’s markets duty free; those from the Caribbean will enter duty paid. A disaster therefore looms, for the Caribbean is not set to have a relationship with these new mega blocs,” he said.
“Without a relationship, and as the region of the world that has the fewest bilateral trade agreements, CARICOM will find itself languishing somewhere in the 20th century while the rest of the world marches on into the 21st,” he added.
Back in May, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness had announced that former Prime Minister Bruce Golding would head a CARICOM Review Commission, saying the time had come to fully assess the benefits, opportunities and challenges of CARICOM and for Jamaica to get the full benefits that membership promised.
Holness, who was making his contribution to the national budget debate at the time, also said the commission would analyze CARICOM’s performance against the goals and objectives enunciated in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and identify the causes of any shortcomings; review the CARICOM arrangement in light of the wider Caribbean, inclusive of the Dominican Republic and Cuba, as well as the impact of globalization.
However, Arthur said there needed to be acknowledgement that CARICOM was by no means perfect.
In fact, he knocked regional leaders for seemingly abandoning the Norman Girvan Plan, which was approved by him and other heads of government in July 2007, as the roadmap to a single economy, saying that plan was “still relevant” as the region seeks to develop responses to such issues as its derisking challenge and the building of a common ICT space.
However, Arthur warned that achievement of a single Caribbean currency was nothing more than a pipe dream.
At the same time the former Barbadian leader said while CARICOM has come to appear as a dismal failure, the current crop of leaders could give the entire integration movement a strong confidence booster by accepting the Caribbean Court of Justice in all of its aspects.
“Barbados has accepted the full jurisdiction of the court. It felt the full weight of a proper court in the [case of Jamaican Shanique] Myrie.
I believe Barbados is the better place for it.
“Jamaicans and all others in the Caribbean have nothing to fear from our regional court.
“It is therefore time to make our regional court the perfect metaphor for what regional integration must truly be about. And there is perhaps no better place to make the point than here in Jamaica on the Mona Campus of the UWI, which is the most venerable and the strongest example of what the region acting as one, can put in place to advance the wellbeing of its people,” he added.