Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Caricom SME — soon come


PRECIOUS little has been reported in the media about the outcome of the 31st meeting of Caricom Heads of Government in Montego Bay. Apart from the sparse attendance by Heads of Government that can only be described as disappointing, the meeting was successful in bringing to the fore the three cardinal issues that for years have haunted the agenda of the conference. These are the issues of governance, that is, leadership, difficulties with intra-Caricom trade, the selection of a new Caricom Secretary General and reform of the Secretariat.

However, we are encouraged by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's expression of goodwill by promising to address several trade disputes existing between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The PM made reference to concerns about a "few perceived issues" related to the cost of production and inputs in both Trinidad and Jamaica, which would include the preferential cost of energy in Trinidad. She said, "We will assess and reassess and review, and where we can find amicable solutions that will endure and enure for the benefit of our people here in Jamaica and in Trinidad and Tobago."

The PM continued, "Now is not the time for the regional business community to be combative rather desperately, we need to join forces to impact in a sustainable way on the international scenario, so let us not in some ways concentrate on our differences and engage in warfare in the region." These remarks are well intentioned, indicating where the inquiry process should begin and the amicable attitude that should prevail.

The foregoing comments were well received and it is now clear that the PM is aware of our continued "bleating and bitching" about these "perceived issues" over the years. It is certainly not the intention to be "combative" as the issues at hand are legitimate trade problems encountered as part of our developing Caribbean trade regime, to be settled within the purview of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas without recourse to the World Trade Organisation, if possible.

The PM also gave advice on how the two states can enjoy successful commercial relationships. Three changes for improvement were recommended. First, engage in innovative improvements to their businesses. Second, create alliances between the business communities of both countries. Third, engage in meetings to discuss ways in which businesses could establish partnerships. These business liaisons are already in progress evidenced by the continuing investment by Trinidadian interests in new projects being developed in Jamaica. However, as the adage goes, "The largest room in the world is the room for improvement", and so we support and concur with the offered advice.

Regarding the paramount issue of governance, PM Golding as Chair of Caricom for the next six months said, "We acknowledge that there is an issue with governance, and we have not solved that problem. We are aware of the proposal to put in place a permanent executive commission or a group of commissioners who have executive powers and then, in effecting the decisions of heads, would translate it to a domestic legislation with a certain amount of automaticity. There is need for continuity and follow-up. There is need for coordination to ensure that those decisions can be implemented." We await the report of the sub-committee in January 2011 covering this key proposal for a Caribbean Commission. The issue of the inequitable terms of trade between the states has been dealt with above.

The selection of a successor to the Caricom Secretary General and reform of the Secretariat should be the subject of a Technical Working Group study. The world's largest current service industry is "bureaucracy" creating a multilayered structure comprising organs, bodies, treaty entities, installations and associate institutions in Caricom which excels in job creation but slows to a moribund pace of implementation of constructive decisions. To be relevant to Caricom today, it has to be reorganised from bottom up and turned into a lean, mean, multifaceted machine, equipped to manage the electronic speed of business today, without the "paper chase" that accompanies the conduct of the Secretariat's business dealings.

A point of high importance which passed unnoticed without comment, was reported by Rickey Singh in this newspaper on July 7, that referred to Trinidad's PM openly speaking about her government's reservations: " well as against a commitment to any form of political integration with the sub-region of the OECS as had been signalled by her predecessor, Patrick Manning." Such an outstanding rejection will surely reverberate throughout the Eastern Caribbean, but will reinforce Caricom's unity.

Mission: "The Caribbean Court of Justice shall perform to the highest standards as the supreme judicial organ in the Caribbean Community. In its Original Jurisdiction it insures uniform interpretation and applications of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, thereby underpinning and advancing the Caricom Single Market and Economy. As the final court of appeal for member states of the Caribbean Community, it fosters the development of an indigenous Caribbean Jurisprudence."

There should be no rush to enjoin the CCJ in its original jurisdiction on the sensitive issue of disadvantaged trade in Caricom. The issue could be resolved by dialogue, investigation and conciliation, given the goodwill and understanding expressed by Kamla Persad-Bissessar during her visit to Jamaica. As with all things temporal, should the critical path as suggested not succeed, then referral to the CCJ should be considered. It is sincerely hoped that such recourse would not come to pass.

July 14, 2010