General Election Underscores Jamaica’s Pivotal Caribbean Role
By Sir Ronald Sanders
The pivotal place of Jamaica in Caribbean relations and in the region’s relations with the international community was underscored by the September 3rd general elections which saw the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) unseat the incumbent Peoples National Party (PNP) for the first time in 18 years.
The JLP is associated with a lukewarm attitude to Caribbean integration even though the country’s manufacturing industry and, increasingly, its big financial services providers have been beneficiaries of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
The Party’s previous leader, Edward Seaga, was a huge critic of the economic integration of the 15 countries that form CARICOM, and while he was Prime Minister did little to advance the integration process.
At the end of last year, Mr Seaga wrote: “CARICOM is likely to face a slide, not a climb, in the future. One day we will look back at the days, months and years of effort that has gone into this futile ordeal to say nothing of the setback for the future, and regret the waste which could have been avoided if the lessons of the past had been taken to heart”.
Part of the past to which Mr Seaga referred is the objection of the JLP under Sir Alexander Bustamante to Jamaica’s participation in the West Indies Federation between 1958 and 1962. The JLP successfully campaigned against the Federation in a 1961 Referendum and Jamaica withdrew opening the way for the Federation’s demise.
The JLP, therefore, has a reputation of being ideologically hostile to deepening the Caribbean integration process, and it is understandable that other Caribbean governments and the international community as a whole would be anxious about the policies that the JLP and its leader Mr Bruce Golding will adopt toward the region.
A good clue to how a Jamaica government under Mr Golding will treat CARICOM is contained in the JLP’s manifesto for the general election. Although the party’s position is set out in two brief paragraphs in a lengthy document, it is, at least, positive.
The paragraphs state: “We pledge our support for CARICOM and the concept of regional integration. We will use our membership and influence within CARICOM and the CSME to exploit their real potential, i.e., to combine our energies and resources as individual states to secure investments, create jobs, increase exports to third countries and improve living standards within the region”.
There was no word about the region’s efforts to establish a CARICOM Commission or a similar mechanism to improve the governance of the regional integration process including the Single Market and Economy (SME) and nothing about whether the JLP will clear the way for Jamaica to replace the British Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its highest court of appeal.
It is more than likely that the government will not support a CARICOM Commission and it is difficult to see how it can support the CCJ as the highest appellate court.
But, on trade matters the JLP does see value in the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM). Its manifesto states clearly that, as the government, the JLP will “support the CRNM and the initiatives being pursued through CARIFORUM to conclude the most favourable agreements with the European Union (Economic Partnership Agreements) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Doha round.
These positions on CARICOM may very well suit other Caribbean governments which have never wanted to cede, or pool, any aspect of their sovereignty to a supra-national regional body. Those governments can now sit by while the new Jamaica government takes the blame for not deepening regional integration.
Since a quasi-Cabinet of CARICOM heads of government was initiated over a decade ago, the Jamaican Prime Minister has carried the portfolio for External Economic Negotiations. This task was performed impressively by PJ Patterson as Prime Minister and Leader of the PNP. When the ball was thrown to Mrs Portia Simpson-Miller on her election as the leader of the JLP, it was fumbled and eventually dropped.
The job will now pass to Mr Golding who is fully up to the task and who will undoubtedly give the Committee on External Relations the leadership it requires particularly as the Caribbean heads into the final stages of negotiations with the European Union (EU) over Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
In its manifesto for the general election, the new government gave a clear indication of the strong position that it intends to adopt on these issues. It says it will: press the EU and the US to remove their agricultural subsidies as a precondition for further liberalization of the Caribbean’s market for such products; strenuously advocate that the EU defer beyond January 2008 reciprocal market access; identify sensitive goods and services which can still be protected from market access under existing WTO rules; and insist on the establishment of a development agenda as the centrepiece of the revival of the WTO trade negotiations.
All of this is right, and if Mr Golding holds to these positions and Jamaica is backed solidly by other Caribbean governments, the negotiations with the EU might turn to a more advantageous track than the one on which they are now travelling.
So, while the Caribbean integration process will almost certainly slow down under the new JLP government, Jamaica will remain a strong partner on trade within CARICOM from which it benefits, and it will be positive leader in international trade negotiations for which its Prime Minister will have regional responsibility.
Nonetheless, the Caribbean region will be looking to Mr Golding for an early signal that he is bold enough to walk a more ambitious path toward regional cooperation than his predecessors were willing to do as leaders of the JLP and Prime Ministers of Jamaica. Giving such a signal would only strengthen the pivotal place of Jamaica in the Caribbean.
* * * Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean Ambassador to the World Trade Organization who publishes widely on Small States in the global community. Responses to: email@example.com