May 10, 2008


Taking Jamaica's case to COTED
Jamaica Gleaner Editorial
published: Friday May 9, 2008

This weekend, Caricom's Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the ministerial group that oversees broad economic issues within the 15-member community, holds a regular meeting in Barbados.

However, it is unlikely that this session of COTED will be taken with the routine dispensing of issues. It could be a rather contentious gathering of ministers. And Jamaica will be at the forefront of the arguments, pursuing what it sees as a critical point of national interest: ensuring the security of food supplies.

COTED is an important forum; it is the ministers who sit in this forum who, generally, decide on any varying of Caricom's Common External Tariff (CET), that is, the rate of duty that member states apply to imports from third countries to protect regional production.

Opposition to suspension

At issue is Jamaica's application for the suspension of the 25 per cent CET on the importation of up to 34,000 tonnes of rice so as to cover what Kingston insists is a shortfall in supplies from with the community. Guyana, Caricom's major supplier of rice, opposes the suspension. According to Georgetown, its producers can meet all of Jamaica's demands.

A substantial part of the problem, it appears, is that Jamaica does not like the fact that Guyana will not commit to forward contracts beyond a month, given the global spike in commodity prices, including that for rice. So, to put it bluntly, Jamaica's trade minister, Karl Samuda, feels that with the Guyanese hoping to maximise returns from purchasers who are willing and capable of paying higher prices, Jamaica is being shafted. And rice is a staple in Jamaica, even though we do not - having a long time ago abandoned the effort - grow the stuff.

There are a number of things that must happen in Barbados, not least of which is that Guyana must come clean on the supply issue. Kingston needs to be satisfied that Georgetown is abiding by both the letter and spirit of the rules.

Single economy pretensions

This, after all, is no arbitrary trade arrangement. Caricom is a single market, with pretensions towards a single economy. In that regard, we expect Jamaica, or any other member of the community, to be subject to the same pricing terms in the purchase of rice as any Guyana buyer - except for the cost of shipping. Trying to squeeze higher prices out of Jamaican purchasers, if that is what Guyana is attempting to achieve by insisting only on short-term contracts, will not do. Jamaica has to be assured, in so far as possible, of a certainty of supply.

But by the same token, Kingston has to take on board the fact of the rise in the price of rice on the global market, and to consider this matter of food security in the broader regional context rather than a purely domestic issue. For, as Mr Samuda will be aware, we have in the past undermined domestic agriculture and weakened food security by the full embrace of cheap and subsidised imports. The revival of a Regional Food Plan, which foundered in the 1980s, is important.

But if Jamaica feels that Guyana is playing games and it gets no satisfaction at COTED, it should test Georgetown's behaviour at the Caribbean Court of Justice which, in its original jurisdiction, interprets the Caricom treaty.

No comments: