Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Editorial | What’s Mr Holness’ vision of CARICOM?

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 7:00 AM

We hope it isn't merely the excitement of a new concert, for we are glad about Prime Minister Andrew Holness' impatience, expressed at last week's summit of regional leaders, at the pace at which the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is transforming itself into a genuine single market and economy - CSME.

Speaking at the conference's opening plenary at Grand Anse, Grenada, where CARICOM leaders launched the CSME idea 28 years ago, Mr Holness complained that only three of the Community's 15 members could truly claim to be in compliance with its implementation regime.

"The true expression of the realisation of the integration dream is to get the CSME going, and we have to have the resolve as leaders to do this," the prime minister said. "It is how people will experience true development and prosperity. And so, Jamaica wants to urge members to seriously put our efforts and commitment behind the CSME."

As we have observed several times before, Mr Holness' recent public embrace of CARICOM and the regional integration movement is extraordinary for a leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which, since it pulled Jamaica out of the West Indies Federation 55 years ago, has tended to be wary of efforts at pulling the region closer together. Not only has the party been suspicious that projects like CARICOM might be a back-door attempt at another federation, it has felt that Jamaica could do better at a broader global engagement, rather than casting its lot in a conglomeration of small markets in which its firms have not done particularly well.

 

Bad economic policies

 

Mr Holness' Government apparently now accepts that Jamaica's underperformance in CARICOM is not primarily the result of other countries cheating the rules, or a regional conspiracy against Kingston, as some business leaders and policymakers have, in the past, implied. Mostly, it represented the failure of bad economic policies, which we have begun to put right.

The prime minister's and the governing party's welcomed CARICOM epiphany notwithstanding, there is still need, we believe, for Mr Holness to add clarity to the shape and form of the CSME behind which he wants his colleagues to put their "effort and commitment".

CARICOM is still largely defined as a trade bloc and not as a community. And even in a single-market context, complaints about the deficiencies mostly focus on the claimed existence of non-tariff trade barriers in some countries; the failure of some states to implement the free movement of labour, even for limited categories of workers to which it applies; and the hassles some countries still face when travelling in the Community.

Implicit in Mr Holness' Grand Anse statement is an eagerness to move towards the core of the declaration that CARICOM leaders made at that venue in 1989 and captured in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas - a genuinely seamless market and economy, stretching from Kingston to Port-of-Spain and into Georgetown and Paramaribo.

For instance, at Article 52 (1) (a) of the treaty, CARICOM states commit themselves to the "coordination of national industrial policies". But the real weight of the vision of Grand Anse is captured in Article 44 (1) (e), where the intention is to work towards the "convergence of macroeconomic performance and policies through the coordination and harmonisation of monetary and fiscal policies ... in particular policies relating to interest rates, exchange rates, tax structure and national budget deficits".