KINGSTON, Jamaica CMC – A senior private sector official here has described the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping as a “talk shop” and that it has failed so far to ensure free trade in the region.
President of the Private Sector Organisation Jamaica (PSOJ) William Mahfood, speaking at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange forum, said he had approached the private sector in Trinidad and Tobago, in a bid to show CARICOM what it was established for, more than two decades ago.
“The heads of government go off to wherever it is, and over the last 20 years that I’ve looked at it; hardly anything has been accomplished out of CARICOM. We have a single form for immigration now. But what else has happened?” he told the forum.
The Jamaica Observer newspaper said, that Mahfood’s discourse follows a commitment by Canada to partner with CARICOM in a CDN$15 million (One CDN=US$0.80 cents), through the Canadian-funded CARICOM Trade and Competitiveness Project, to implement new, and in some cases, extensive reforms of existing legislation, regulations, and associated procedural and administrative arrangements to operationalise the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME).
The revised CARICOM treaty aims at improving standards of living and work; full employment of labour and other factors of production; expansion of trade and economic relations with third states, as well enhanced levels of international competitiveness.
“I have members who say they feel significant benefits exist with the CARICOM agreement. My view is that CARICOM is a good thing, if it [is] operated in the way that it should. It should be a single market, which basically means freedom of movement of people, services, goods and money,” Mahfood said.
He said Trinidad and Tobago, which is only able to fill 70 per cent of employment in the restaurant sector, could employ Jamaicans and other nationals to reduce the region’s unemployment rate, and allow for more transfer of funds back and forth between countries.
“Jamaicans should be able to get on a plane and go to Trinidad, Guyana or Belize, and apply for jobs as a mason, restaurant worker or a hotel worker without having to go through a process where he is being treated as if he is a second-class citizen,” he said.
Mahfood said that CARICOM currently operates a one-way street, where majority of the benefits redounds to Trinidad and Tobago, having secured protection on their industries, borders and petroleum.
“They don’t want Jamaicans to come in and work, and effectively have a huge advantage over everybody else within the region on petroleum, and that’s my personal view,” he said.
PSOJ chief executive officer Dennis Chung, who also addressed the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange forum, said that a recent study conducted by the PSOJ on trade facilitation in CARICOM concluded that many of the challenges faced in trade facilitation was not necessarily with the region, but rather in Jamaica.
Mahfood also pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago trade agencies have also increased the challenges faced by local exporters, after they refused to facilitate trade of a product which, according to the country’s Chemistry, Food and Drug Division, was not compliant with their local labelling standard.
“It had the same labelling as one manufactured in Trinidad, and the next day they allowed it pass through,” he said.
“The private sector in Trinidad feels the same way we do. It’s the people working in these agencies, which are similar to ours in Jamaica, who have a relatively similar mindset [and] are not necessarily in favour of complete openness and free trade and a single market, so we have to overcome that,” Mahfood told the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange forum.