Sunday, February 18, 2018

A road already well travelled

 EDMUND Bartlett, a Jamaica MP  and the Opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs recently stated the JLP’s position to consider, yet again, this “hot air” policy balloon namely, the unsatisfactory trade deficit with Caricom, stated as the decline in Jamaica’s exports to Caricom of US$67.4 million which partially contributed to the total regional trade balance of US$881 million.

He would certainly have seen and understood an earlier proposal which, after in-depth research, was found to be unworkable. Jamaica cannot just “walk away” from Caricom, unless the entire regional trade agreement was to fragment, which is highly unlikely. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade A J Nicholson had previously explained Jamaica’s relationship within Caricom that disallows Jamaica’s departure from the regional group.

To assist Bartlett’s recall of the previous discussion on the possibility of Jamaica’s withdrawal from Caricom permanently, or in the short or medium term, the explanation is as follows: “Article 43 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) does not provide for a partial “suspension or withdrawal” from the treaty by a Caricom member State. This is upheld by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969. Invalidity, Termination and Suspension of the operation of treaties: Section 1, General Provisions. Article 42 (Vienna Convention) Validity and Countenance in force of treaties

Bartlett is of the view that, after leaving Caricom, Jamaica should develop a trade relationship with the Spanish-speaking northern Caribbean and Central American countries, for example; the Dominican Republic (DR), Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, Cayman, Turks and Caicos, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Mexico. These countries, however, are developmentally more advanced than Jamaica and any relationship would, of necessity, have to be based on asymmetrical geometry, particularly with any growth and development components. This would be very cumbersome, as seen with the length of time it has taken to negotiate with the DR and Canada for the same reason.

The negotiations with Canada are of concern to Bartlett, as the date for completion, ie 30th June 2014, has passed. All is not lost, as the residual issues are to be dealt with in an MOU to eventually conclude the agenda. Our negotiating team has been firm and resolute given previous misgivings with the EPA that still generate criticism. The Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) should be commended for taking such a keener attitude in protecting the nation’s interest.

Let us briefly examine Bartlett’s presumed “new architecture” as if it were to exist:

The year is 2018, when the 10-year basket of goods containing Jamaican products is to become zero-rated under the European Partnership Agreement. However, this development is now meaningless because, with Jamaica’s withdrawal from Caricom, the relationship with the European Union embedded in the EPA has been fatally ruptured. As an immediate consequence, the European Commission has applied General System of Preference (GSP) tariffs to all Jamaican exports to the EU.

Bilateral trade agreements to which Jamaica was a signatory in the former name of Caricom, with Colombia and Venezuela for example, are being renegotiated by Jamaica as a third party in its sovereign right. This also applies to the US and Canada—still the major markets for Jamaica’s goods and services. However, the only domestic market remaining to service the 14 residual Caricom states remain outside the ambit of duty-free access that prevailed before Jamaica seceded from the regional group that is still protected by the Common External Tariff (CET). This constraint has led to tougher negotiations with potential trading partners. With lower energy costs, a short transit time, and readily available goods, Trinidad and Tobago still remains a main supplier of competitively priced duty-paid products. Jamaica’s bound tariff rates in the WTO have been reduced by 20 per cent; significantly lowering applied tariff rates. Jamaica as a single, independent state is finding it difficult to attract investment being a small island of 2.8 million citizens. Time does not allow for more examples, but they are radical in nature.

Jamaica’s future rests today with Caricom, and the Opposition should direct its energies to improving the regional community as the group moves towards the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). Get on board!

—Courtesy Jamaica Observer