Ja's future in CARICOMJamaica Gleaner:
After three days of talks with Jamaican political and private-sector leaders, Irwin LaRocque, secretary general of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), was convinced that there is no threat of Kingston walking out of the regional union.
Among the leaders with whom Mr LaRocque met, and who would have contributed to his perception of Jamaica's commitment to the community, was Andrew Holness, leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
That is significant. It suggests that, just as much as Jamaica needs to determine what place it wants to have in CARICOM, the JLP has to resolve its own position on regional integration. For whatever the signal Mr Holness may have left with the secretary general, regional integration and CARICOM are subjects on which there is a clear lack of cogency, coherence or consensus on the part of the Opposition.
Indeed, even as Jamaica has its own conversation on regional integration, it may be worthwhile for the rest of CARICOM to question whether Kingston is an inevitable part of the Community and what shape the process might take in its absence. In other words, CARICOM should begin to contemplate the same questions the West Indies Federation had to deal with half a century ago when Jamaica opted out of the union.
For while we agree with Ambassador LaRocque that the proximate cause of Jamaica's unease with CARICOM is Kingston's US$957-million deficit in visible trade with the community - most of which is the result of imports from Trinidad and Tobago - Jamaica's historic ambivalence towards integration runs deep.
Consistent with his party's historic posture, Mr Holness is less than effusive about matters regional, recently evidenced by his waffle on if, and how, Jamaica should accede to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Further, Mr Holness faces pressure on the regional issue from senior JLP officials. The former trade minister, Karl Samuda, and the current shadow of that portfolio, Gregory Mair, recently stopped just short of calling for Jamaica's withdrawal from the Community because, supposedly, Kingston gains nothing from it.
Such perceptions, allied with Jamaica's real fiscal problems, underpinned the suggestion from the influential and usually sober Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica that tariffs be imposed on imports from Trinidad and Tobago, a move that would strike at the heart of the concept of CARICOM as a single market.
This newspaper appreciates the logic of regional conglomeration and understands that Jamaica's economic crisis is not of CARICOM's making. Indeed, tariff and non-tariff barriers to regional imports might earn some more taxes. But the greater impact, most likely, will be to shift the deficit to third-country economies.
The bottom line: Jamaica is the natural political leader of CARICOM and can carry far greater weight economically if it gets its house in order. But an absence of political consensus, and deep uncertainty about the region, cause mood swings over CARICOM that are not evident in the Eastern Caribbean.
Beyond signals of the kind to Ambassador LaRocque, Jamaica has to seriously ask itself if it wants to be part of CARICOM, and the rest of the community must decide if Jamaica can be engaged on the terms it demands. This may mean Kingston deciding to go it alone, or a dual-track community with Jamaica on the periphery.
July 03, 2012