“A Formidable Team”: The CARICOM Review Commission Holds Its First Meeting

Since the “Brexit” referendum, there have been mutterings in social media about whether Jamaica should leave the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – especially in light of the recent concerns over the treatment of Jamaican travelers at some Caribbean airports. How about a “CARICOMexit,” they ask? Well, be that as it may, plans for a Commission to review Jamaica’s membership in the regional body have been well under way for some time. The Commission met for the first time today.

Local media representatives were invited to attend the “first section” of the meeting – which consisted of general remarks by the Chairman, and lasted for precisely ten minutes. We were granted time for “one or two” questions, and then we were out. Three or four journalists hung around afterwards, hoping for interviews. I think one or two were eventually granted.

Where are the women in this picture? Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) with (from left): Mr Bruce Golding, former Prime Minister and newly appointed Chairman of CARICOM Review Commission, Damien King, Economist, Professor Alvin Wint, and Andre Mariott-Blake, CARICOM Youth Ambassador. The Prime Minister launched the Commission on June 28 at the Office of the Prime Minister. (Photo: JIS)
Where are the women in this picture? Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) with (from left): Mr Bruce Golding, former Prime Minister and newly appointed Chairman of CARICOM Review Commission, Damien King, Economist, Professor Alvin Wint, and Andre Mariott-Blake, CARICOM Youth Ambassador. The Prime Minister launched the Commission on June 28 at the Office of the Prime Minister. (Photo: JIS)

The agenda was not made available to the press today; nor was it referred to in the Chairman’s remarks, which as I said were very general. Mr. Golding said the Commission will look at CARICOM’s successes and failures; its architecture and systems; and that it would not take any “predetermined position.” He emphasized the importance of looking at Jamaica’s approach to CARICOM and our own policies and actions.” He noted that it is important to know what “ordinary Jamaican citizens” (his words) feel, and that the Commission will go out and consult with them. He also noted that the Commission will consult with those who have experience working within the CARICOM system, to get their perspectives; and to see how Jamaica can benefit from further research. He assured the public of the Commission’s “diligence and purposefulness, and that Jamaica’s interests will be paramount” in their consultations.

The CARICOM Review Commission, put together to review Jamaica’s relations within the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and ACP CARIFORUM framework, is chaired by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding. The 18-member Commission is as follows (a “formidable team” as Mr. Golding described it):

Professor Eleanor Brown, Associate Professor of Law, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Mr. Donnie Bunting, Farmer, Longville Park Farm

Ms. Michelle Chong, President, Jamaica Exporters Association

Ambassador Dr. Nigel Clarke, Deputy Chairman/Chief Financial Officer, Musson Group of Companies

Mr. Dennis Cohen, Deputy Managing Director, National Commercial Bank

Mr. Michael Diamond, Second Vice President, National Consumer League

Mr. John Jackson, Chartered Accountant/Financial Analyst

Mr. Hugh Johnson, President, Small Business Association of Jamaica

Dr. Damien King, Co-Executive Director, Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), University of the West Indies, Mona

Mr. Christopher Levy, President & CEO, The Jamaica Broilers Group

Mr. William Mahfood, President, Private Sector Organization of Jamaica

Mr. Warren McDonald, President, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce

Ambassador Lorne McDonnough, Former Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago (and CARICOM)

Mr. Kevin O’Brien Chang, Businessman/Public Commentator

Mr. Danny Roberts, Director, Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, University of the West Indies, Mona

Mr. Metry Seaga, President, Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association

Ms. Maxine Henry Wilson, Commissioner, Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission

EX-OFFICIO AND SUPPORT STAFF:

Administrative Assistant

Foreign Service Office

Ministry of Finance and Public Service

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade

Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries

Research Officer

Formidable indeed, and the names listed above are all eminent and worthy Jamaicans. But where is the diversity? More than half of the eighteen members are business/private sector representatives. Three of the eighteen members are women. There are no representatives of civil society (including human rights) on the Commission – except perhaps the National Consumer League, which is not very active; no youth representatives – by the way, 63 per cent of CARICOM’s population is under thirty years old; and no representatives of groups such as the disabled, women, seniors etc. Couldn’t these “ordinary Jamaican citizens” have a seat at the table? Are they not affected by CARICOM’s policies and by Jamaica’s position in the group? Does the Commission aim to focus on business and trade only, with a bit of foreign policy thrown in? These are the questions I came away with.

When I asked about the lack of civil society representation (one of the two questions allowed), Mr. Golding told me that the Prime Minister appointed the Commission; and that anyway, it is difficult to identify a civil society representative. I could have given him several names off the top of my head.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the opening ceremony of the 37th regular meeting of the conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Georgetown Guyana. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)
Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the opening ceremony of the 37th regular meeting of the conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Georgetown Guyana. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

The Commission’s Terms of Reference are as follows:

  • Evaluate the effects that Jamaica’s participation in CARICOM has had on its economic growth and development, with particular reference to trade in goods and services, investment, international competitiveness and employment;
  • Analyze CARICOM’s performance against the goals and objectives enunciated in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and to identify the causes of the shortcomings;
  • Review the CARICOM arrangement in light of the wider Caribbean, inclusive of the Dominican Republic and Cuba, as well as other Caribbean territories;
  • Assess the value of Jamaica’s membership in CARICOM on its influence in critical international fora and with third state trade and development partners;
  • Assess the benefits from the coordination of foreign policy positions within CARICOM;
  • Consider the question of the enlargement of the membership of CARICOM;
  • Assess whether the CARICOM dispute settlement provisions provide realistic options for settlement of disputes for Jamaica.

Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith is attending the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Guyana with Prime Minister Andrew Holness. There are a bunch of press releases related to the meeting on CARICOM’s website: http://caricom.org  Security and the economy are very high on the agenda for this meeting, which ends on July 6. I do hope that there will be less talk and more action from CARICOM in the future; although Brexit does provide our Caribbean leaders with fodder for many additional hours of talking.

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Chair of the CARICOM Review Commission. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Chair of the CARICOM Review Commission. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

10 thoughts on ““A Formidable Team”: The CARICOM Review Commission Holds Its First Meeting

  1. So much disrespect for 51% of Jamaica ‘ s population, 3:women out of 18 members is an insult. And of course the presence and dominance of the same male heads of the main business private sector organizations does suggest a focus on trade, commerce. We can expect little attention to the concerns of ordinary jamaican women and men — the CARICOM citizens who have to contend with the ill treatment dished out by at least two immigration authorities. Let us see where the reference to employment leads. Is it all a sham with big businesses being the major beneficiaries as usual? ??
    Judith

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    1. Dear Judith: I so agree with you! It does amount to an insult! They are going to consult with “ordinary citizens” – but are their concerns secondary to those of the businessmen? I must admit when I looked down the list, I was quite disturbed! SIGH.

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  2. I was most disturbed when Golding was made chair of the commission. How can a commission with Golding, Metry Seaga and William Mahfood not come “with a predetermined position”? Golding has written much crap ensconced in highfalutin language (to make it sound intelligent) regarding CARICOM only recently and we all know Mahfood has an axe to grind because he can’t compete with Trinidadian goods (unlike Lasco, Grace and Seprod who not only compete with Trinidadian goods locally but either export or have plans to export to Trinidad and the rest of CARICOM – when last did you hear Mahfood talking about plans to export anywhere? In fact, isn’t his company one of the largest distributors of imported goods?)

    And why is Mahfood on the commission as PSOJ head when he was already planning to resign ahead of schedule from that position? Should they not have waited for the new PSOJ head to join?

    And why is the Jamaica Coalition of Service Industries not represented?

    At the very least they could also have included Roderick Rainford as well as persons from the health, meteorological and secondary education fields.

    At least 33-40% of the commissioners should have been women.

    I don’t hold high hopes for this commission, though I am hoping they don’t recommend anything stupid on account of a minority (yes! It IS a minority) of Jamaicans who experience trouble at immigration and customs elsewhere in the region. It may be a *very* vocal minority, but it is a minority nonetheless. And of that minority, it is quite likely only a minority of them who have legitimate grounds for feeling aggrieved. I can say this with first hand knowledge as I have travelled to Trinidad and Barbados with zero issues, whereas a couple of my travel companions did have issues…but of their own making as they arrived at immigration not knowing the full name of the person we were planning to stay with. Now maybe they expect that crap to fly because it is one of the “small islands” but that is exactly the kind of attitude that lands people in hot water with immigration authorities in *ANY* country on the planet (I’m sure even the immigration authorities in South Sudan, the Maldives or Yemen would expect you to at least know your host’s full name). If you go there and can only remember the first or last name then that immediately sends up red flags. Luckily for my travel companions immigration was not about to send them home (as I would have done, I have little time for people who play the fool; especially as these two companions have travelled often to the US where not knowing the full name of your host would likely see you sent to “the room” for further question and possible deportation) but gave them time to remember the name and even let them call someone. Some Jamaicans are even worse as I know of one incident (via the immigration officers themselves) in an OECS country where the arriving Jamaican visitor didn’t even know his host’s *real* name but kept using the nickname and got extremely rude and rowdy when immigration kept asking him for his host’s real name. Again, luckily, the authorities extended the kind of courtesy to him that folks in Miami or NYC would never, ever do after such behaviour and contacted his host directly to confirm the arrangements and name.

    The overall attitude of my country to the other islands and regional integration is tiring – we seem to learn nothing and appreciate nothing. We constantly harp on about the deficit with CARICOM and Trinidad in particular but the deficit with the United States is approximately 2-3 times our deficit with Trinidad (the deficit with Trinidad is around 500 million normally; that with the US is around. 1.5 billion or more) yet not a peep about that particular deficit. Perhaps it is okay if we are sending loads of money to the US, but not to Trinidad…for some reason.

    Some Jamaicans fantasize about jamaica leaving caricom to draw closer to Cuba and the DR (both of which have trade agreements with CARICOM by the way and the DR has been trying to get into CARICOM for a long time), yet we have trade deficits with both. Around 2012 we import over 50 times what we export to the DR (whereas for Trinidad it is closer to 40 times the amount of imports versus exports). And we have no direct flights to either Cuba or the DR (one has to fly through the Cayman Islands, Haiti or the Turks and Caicos Islands) – and yet some seem to expect some kind of beneficial integration with countries where there is low demand for interaction with Jamaica.

    This same kind of attitude was on display when we refused federation on the grounds that the other islands would be a drain on us, only for us to take advantage of them during the CARIFTA and early CARICOM era (Jamaica had a trade surplus or balanced trade with the rest of the region from 1968 until around 1990) while they became wealthy and we squandered our resources, only for us to then turn around and blame them starting in the 1990s for supposedly sucking us dry. We complain about what happens to a minority of our citizens (most of whom make no attempt to use formal channels available to them to remedy their alleged ill-treatment) and what happens with our most uncompetitive companies (who similarly seem averse to using official channels and mechanisms available to remedy alleged unfair practices and discrimination) and threaten to leave as a result. To what end I’m not sure, because the other countries won’t be begging us to stay (they won’t be begging anyone to stay – not Trinidad, not St. Lucia, not Barbados…if any country wants to leave the other governments won’t attempt to stand in their way) and if we do leave then what does it achieve? Will our companies suddenly find that they can more easily sell goods in Trinidad? No. Will Jamaicans travelling to the eastern Caribbean find they are let through by immigration without any questions? Nope (in fact we might be required to get visas before travelling there!). Will Jamaica have a forum in which to address these concerns? Nope, not outside of regular bilateral meetings or at the WTO. Will we find that we suddenly import a lot less from Trinidad and the rest of CARICOM? Nope – not unless we magically get more land to grow rice and stop importing from Guyana and strike our own oil and stop importing from Trinidad. We won’t overnight gain the capacity to replace our imports, so our imports will continue, only now they will be more expensive as tariffs get slapped on them to protect non-existent or non-capable local industry.

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    1. You know far more about these trade issues than I do. I just noted that the Commission was so heavily weighted in favor of business interests. The thing is that CARICOM means SO little to the average Jamaican (they really don’t care) because they don’t see themselves – civil society, women, YOUTH, minorities etc – represented there. It’s all very sad. I agree with you on the immigration issue; if you can’t tell the immigration officer where you are staying it raises a lot of red flags, anywhere in the world! And isn’t it amazing that we don’t have direct flights to Cuba and the DR, our two big neighbors? With Cuba growing in influence and economic importance by the minute! Thanks for your comments and interesting perspectives, Hunter!

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  3. So the EU has Brexit, with all its controversy, and now the Caribbean in typical “follow fashion style” clamour for Jexit, or whatever you want to call it! Can we at least get some original ideas, people??!!! SMH!!

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    1. Well, I have only heard one or two Jamaicans talking about leaving CARICOM, if that is what you are referring to. But that has been talked about for years, anyway. Thanks for your comments, Sonia!

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