AT the time of writing yesterday, an official announcement on the outcome of the bilateral trade and investment meeting in Kingston between the foreign ministers of Jamaica (AA Nicholson) and Trinidad and Tobago (Winston Dookeran) was not available.
However, given the enthusiasm and concern both displayed for strengthening trade and economic ties between the two largest intra-regional trading partners of Caricom, there is good reason to be optimistic about enlightened arrangements being put in place to overcome the clamour in Jamaica to boycott trade with T&T. These calls have come in the wake of recurring denial of entry and deportation of Jamaicans by T&T immigration authorities.
Following the latest deportation fiasco last month of 13 Jamaicans, both Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her National Security Minister, Gary Griffith, hastily claimed that “no wrongs” had been committed by the Immigration department.
Minister Griffith went further to engage in some unfortunate emotional talk—often the kind of talk uttered in a few other Caricom jurisdictions —about these “foreigners” (Caricom citizens, mind you), settling down to take away jobs from locals.
Among concerns for the future progress of the region’s economic integration movement as “One Community for One People”, intra-regional trade remains less than 18 per cent while food imports have climbed to at least US$5 billion annually.
The late William Demas, acclaimed “statesman” among this region’s economists, went to his grave urging, passionately, economic zoning within the community with specific member states identified for agriculture diversification and focused on food and beverage production and marketing and others specialising in tourism and tourism, etc.
It was a vision that complemented the passion with which the late T&T prime minister Dr Eric Williams had advocated and supported the establishment of a Caribbean Food Corporation with countries like Guyana and Belize being primary producers and T&T’s energy-based economy focusing on manufacturing for national, regional and foreign markets.
Fresh hopes for Guyana and T&T being integrally involved—in addition to Barbados and Guyana—in agricultural diversification are currently being stirred by new reports of bilateral ministerial meetings and, separately, discussions involving leading regional entrepreneurs.
However, for now, a question of immediate relevance, which may also have engaged attention at the meeting between Mr Dookeran and Mr Nicholson, is why the calls to boycott T&T’s exports to Jamaica given the existence of a Jamaica-T&T Trade Facilitation Trade Desk for “promoting, encouraging and assisting the growth and development of manufacturing industries..”?
There is, of course, another urgent question pertaining to the recurring and quite distressing cases of Caricom nationals often treated with hostility, and worse—denial of entry—even after the historic judgment by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the recent case between Barbados and the Jamaican national, Shanique Myrie that she won with compensation. Has any of the governments of Caricom, or the Georgetown-based Community Secretariat itself, considered a special meeting of senior immigration and customs officials and ministers responsible for home affairs and national security for them to be sensitised to the implications of the CCJ’s judgment in the Myrie case?
I think that, perhaps with few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of immigration and customs officers embrace the concept of the right of Caricom citizens to free movement.
But they need to be sensitised to the full nature of the CCJ’s judgment in helping to make a reality of what the signatories to the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas as well as the treaty for establishment and functioning of the regional court envisaged when they formally approved a shared vision of a seamless regional economy for “One People, One Community”.
So many Caricom leaders and senior officials like to talk about “improved governance”, “justice and fundamental human rights”. Yet, none has come forward to date to suggest the holding of a special brain-storming meeting involving senior immigration and customs officials on the implications of the CCJ’s judgment on freedom of intra-regional travel for Caricom citizens. Why?
Is it that they themselves have not taken time to consider the importance of that judgment by a court to which all member states are committed to supporting, consistent with the treaty that brought it into existence?
Further, the public at large should be reminded that whether or not such Caricom states—T&T and Jamaica, for instance—are still to cut colonial ties with Britain’s Privy Council, and access membership of the CCJ as their final appellate court—they must regularly make their allotted financial contributions for its operations.
Meanwhile, we await the outcome of the meeting between Mssrs Dookeran and Nicholson.