Caricom still valuable, says JEA

As the nation grapples with a widening trade deficit with Caricom, now nearly US$1.2 billion ($104.6 billion), there have been increasing calls to pull out from the 15-member regional organisation by some Jamaicans . However, the Jamaica Exporters Association (JEA) has distanced itself from the anti-Caricom movement, saying there is still value to being part of the Caribbean trading group.

“That is not something that the JEA supports,” JEA general manager, Jean Smith, said recently at a press conference held at the JEA head office in Kingston.

“We still have a number of firms that are exporting to Caricom and have been doing very well,” she said, adding “It is still an important area for earnings for Jamaican firms and we feel that we just need to be more aggressive.”

Jamaica has the largest market in the Caricom. The country reportedly imports 30 per cent of total intra-regional Caricom exports, but produces less than two per cent of those exports.

Trinidad and Tobago accounts for the bulk of the trade deficit between Jamaica and Caricom. This imbalance compounded with several high profile trade disputes have contributed to uneasy commercial relations between the two countries.

Smith said the JEA is playing its part to build the relationship between Jamaica and Trinidad, and the association was recently part of Industry Minister Anthony Hylton’s delegation to a Trade and Investment Convention (TIC) in Port of Spain.

“We recognise that there are challenges. There are issues that need to be looked at carefully as we go forward,” acknowledged Smith.

“The effort now to rebuild our standing in the region in key markets will take focus, building bridges with partners and revisiting some of the strategies that we employed in the past, such as having a trade commissioner based in Trinidad,” the JEA general manager said.

While Jamaica facilitates hassle-free access to its market for Caricom partners, the country’s exports are met with resistance, especially in Trinidad, argue some industry experts. From contentious issues dealing with product labelling to testing, the complaints from Jamaican businesspersons on barriers to enter the Trinidadian market are widespread. More recently, there was a huge outcry in Jamaica after Trinidad blocked Tastee patties from being exported there because of concerns it raised about sanitary standards.

Former minister of industry, investment and commerce Karl Samuda last week described the trade imbalance between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago as a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment”, and warned that the time was running out for Jamaica to make a decision on its future trade links with the regional grouping.

“We should not support the notion of Caricom forever; it must be Caricom for as long as it satisfies Jamaica. There can be no relationship, at least not a healthy one, without reciprocity,” said Samuda.

But JEA’s Smith said Jamaica must share some of the blame for the huge deficit, stating that the country is being partly punished for shifting focus from Caricom three decades ago.

“We feel that everything needs to be looked at in context. When we look at our huge imbalance with Trinidad, that situation emerged out of a deliberate policy in the 1980s when we diverted our emphasis to third country markets,” she said.

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