"Jamaica has been the ATM for Trinidad and Tobago."
That's the claim from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), which has indicated that it wants Jamaica to use the upcoming Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government Summit to push forcefully for changes that will "rebalance trading relationships" in the 15-member group.
William Mahfood, the PSOJ president who has made the claim, was referencing a comment made by former Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who in 2010 at a similar event in Jamaica, controversially declared that her country was not an "ATM machine for the Caribbean".
"Jamaica, without us even realising it, for many, many years has been the ATM for Trinidad. What exists now in CARICOM is a one-way street. We have an influx of goods coming from Trinidad. Trinidad, at this point in time is the only beneficiary of CARICOM," he argued.
Mahfood said CARICOM should be moving at a better pace towards integration similar to the European Union (EU), now in crisis over the decision of Britain to exit the union.
The EU citizens and businesses can travel freely throughout member states with little restrictions.
"If CARICOM were to operate in the same way, what that would mean is that where there are competitive advantages, like in Trinidad, for oil, gas and energy, manufacturers could have a base there, but it could be staffed by Jamaican or Guyanese labourers," Mahfood argued.
"If that doesn't happen, then there is a lot of the CSME intention [that is] really not worthwhile," he said.
The issue of trade, especially by Jamaican businesses, has put a strain over the years on relationships between Kingston and Port-of-Spain. There has also been the long-running matter relating to immigration.
Jamaican businesses have also complained about the alleged disadvantage they face with Trinidad and Tobago under the Common External Tariff (CET), which is an agreed tax by members of the union on imports of a product from outside the union.
"Under the Common External Tariff, it allowed Trinidad, which produces petroleum products, to export their petroleum to Jamaica at a premium. We estimated that it cost Jamaica over the last 10 years more than $8 billion," Mahfood said, explaining that there has been a push for the CET's removal or the inclusion of tax on petroleum from Trinidad.
Mahfood claims that a change would ensure that all products are priced to compete at the same level.
No Jamaican businesses have brought a case to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) testing the issues under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which governs CARICOM and the CSME.
Meanwhile, head of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, Metry Seaga, believes that Jamaican businesses should shoulder some of the blame for some of the trade imbalances that persist in the region.
"We have not done a good enough job in utilising the available options to us. Countries like Trinidad and Tobago have used them very well. We have played by the letter of the law," he said, adding that he believes in the CSME and CARICOM.
"We have not pushed the envelope. For example, we have allowed Trinidad and Tobago to sell us oil at an inflated price because of the benefit of the CET. We have known about [it] and we have been silent about [it] for the last 10 years."
According to Seaga, Jamaican businesses have options of pursuing strong negotiations, registering a complaint with the Council for Trade and Economic Development or taking cases to the CCJ.
Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica show that Jamaica's trade deficit with the CARICOM declined by almost a fifth in the first 10 months of last year.
Up to October last year, the deficit was US$480 million.
STATIN says the deficit fell because of lower prices of fuel imported from Trinidad and Tobago.
Meanwhile, exports to the countries of the regional group also fell by 40 per cent to US$45 million.
Courtesy: Jamaica Gleaner