Saturday, June 5, 2010

Greek tragedy, Caricom, economic lessons for Jamaica

By Franklin Johnston

It is time for a mature discussion on Caricom and Jamaica and the EU/Greece crisis can guide us. Caricom is Jamaica's most costly overseas project. What do you know about it? Federation morphed into CARIFTA, now Caricom/CSME. I am "Carisceptic", as it hasn't delivered economic growth and I don't think it can. Jamaica is a global brand. Caricom is not, and for growth we must help our own first!

T&T is right to favour its industry and not give away its LNG. If we give away our bauxite, so be it. We need to chart our own growth path as they do. The Cabinet, PSOJ, UWI, Opposition must come clean. If Caricom is a device to draw down EU and other benefits, fine, but we need more to grow. Caricom has no traction here; most don't know it, the new HQ in Guyana does not affect us and as we are all "British" it is culture neutral.

Caricom is secretive. Where are its accounts? We work, sell and go on vacation north, so an oil spill off Louisiana concerns us, not in the Eastern Caribbean (EC). Caricom is of the cognoscenti; an elite club, those who make up the glitterati at its cocktail parties and banquets; workers have no part in it.

We need an independent inquiry. What can Caricom do for our economy? It went from common market to "single economy". What does this mean? Cabinet must publish full Caricom accounts, staff, expenditure, source of funds, etc. It cost us "a bag" since 1968 - for what? Now, with the shift from regionalisation to globalisation and WTO, is it relevant to our economic growth? No more speculation, we need answers!

What does Greece/EU teach us about Jamaica/CSME? We love Britain and our ex-slave, ex-colonial English-speaking brethren, but Caricom cannot just idolise "Britishness". The EC is not a destination of choice for us and the hostility at Air Jamaica's sale to T&T speaks volumes! Love at long distance is doomed as we are intimate with those close by! Notice, even our men go to Cuba, not the EC, to find wives and mistresses? Very French!

Caricom is our intergenerational project, but it does not work for us. The reason?

The preconditions to economic union are not met in our case. Consider the following:

*The EC is far from us and thousands of sea miles form a barrier to trade, travel, intimacy as they did for the Caribs and Columbus. English heritage is our only link with the EC.

*The union of several small, poor, distant island states with no major natural resource or intellectual property base cannot benefit our economy. CSME is politics, not economics!

*Our large population relative to the size of Caricom (ours is equal to the combined islands), our chronic poverty and failure to be sustainable in our heyday of bauxite and export preferences give our partners no confidence, and though rich, they are too small to support us. Let's now compare some common EU and CSME goals:

*Free movement for work, play and study. This works for Greece but not for us. Greeks can travel in the EU cheaply by air, car or on foot. Only UWI, government officials and the rich can travel in Caricom. Workers from poor members go to rich EU states to find jobs. Our workers are not allowed into the EC to seek employment.

*Common currency. If CSME had a common "cari" our debt would hurt all members. The euro is inflexible, so Greece can't devalue to help itself as it would hurt the eurozone. But the EU has mobilised US$1 trillion to help it. What does Caricom do to help us? Nada! One euro buys little in the north, but a lot in the south, so UK citizens live or work in Greece for the good weather and cheap living. Life is cheaper in the EC but we are not allowed to live there. Britain is not in the euro, but gives billions of pounds to save it as Greece's demand keeps UK factories open. Does T&T, our "trade gorgon", do this for us? No siree!

*Free trade. Caricom trade just makes us owe the EC more. Greece gets subsidy for farms and industry from the EU. In our distress do we get Caricom subsidy? No!

*Integration, fiscal, monetary discipline. The EU rides its members hard. They have to be prudent and balance their budgets. In the EU crackdown on Greece, they require cuts in spending, wages; higher taxes and oversight - it's done; budgets may soon be sent to the EU for approval and banks to pay a levy to fund bailouts. Germans cuss Greece as "lazy freeloaders" and Greeks cuss the EU and Germany as "Nazi", but Greece submits as the subsidies are good! Would we send our budget to Guyana for approval? No way!

The non-economic benefits of Caricom are modest and not unique. Check this:

*Our knowledge-based goals as CCJ can be had without union, some from "English" Canada, or India. We can get weather, legal services etc, based on treaty or payment.

*We all need new friends. EU masons, waiters, etc, work in Greece, the UK, and make friends - this is not so in Caricom. Only our officials and the rich have friends in Caricom!

*Our neighbours offer richer cultures than Anglocentric Caricom. Why not embrace all - French, British and Spanish? Let's unite with our close neighbours and enjoy their opera and ballet, then save up for that costly once-in-a-lifetime trip to T&T carnival!

*We share an ocean, geology, tectonic, climatic, security and air space with Haiti, DR, Puerto Rico, Cuba and our growth, environment and security future is with them. Will Caricom protect us from thousands of miles away? UWI has the EC and UTech must build joint campuses in Cuba, Haiti, DR; exchange students; train multilingual technologists, professionals, managers for job opportunities in the global economy.

We have Usain, Asafa and Bob but the EC states have Kim, Viv, Ato, Rihanna, Armatrading, some Nobel laureates and surpluses - Caricom works for them. Only growth and jobs can save us, so we need to do things differently. Do we focus on a distant market of 3m in Caricom or the 30m market of our close neighbours? A "no-brainer!" Stay conscious!

Alert: To raise standards, top UK universities may no longer admit students who resit A-levels and qualifying exams. One-one coco won't do, so if you got the subjects, but not at the first sitting, then apply to a second-rate university. UWI and UTech, please note!

Dr Franklin Johnston is an international project manager with Teape-Johnston Consultants, currently on assignment in the UK

June 04, 2010