Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness (FILE)
PORT OF SPAIN – Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness Tuesday reiterated that the decision to establish a Commission to review his country’s relationship with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was not intended to create an avenue for it to leave the 15-member regional integration movement.
Addressing the second and final day of the two-day CARICOM summit on the single market and economy (CSME), Holness said that it was imperative that the Commission under the chairmanship of former prime minister Bruce Golding was established to give his then new administration empirical evidence of its relationship with CARICOM and the wider Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM).
“So from a practical point of view, from a political point of view it became an issue that the government had to consider,” he said making reference to the problem experienced by Jamaicans in their attempt to freely enter some Caribbean countries.
“Then there were considerations from the private sector who made a point at every engagement to bring to the attention of the government the difficulties they were having in accessing the markets of the region,” Holness told his colleagues, adding “and there were concerns about unfair practices and energy was used as the case in point”.
He said the government “facing these growing political issues” had to respond especially since he was convinced “I could not engage in rhetoric, I could not engage in stalking the flames (and) I could not speak without an empirical basis.
“And so we initiated a Commission to review our relations within CARICOM and within the wider CARIFORUM region. But at the same time I also engaged with our colleagues directly and specifically with Prime Minister Dr (Keith) Rowley (of Trinidad and Tobago), Holness said.
He told his regional colleagues that also formed the basis for Rowley paying on official visit to Jamaica and “I believed that went down very well.
“But it taught us a lesson that is, all politics is local and all politics is about people. It is about people to people relations,” he said, noting the role to be played by government in fostering such relationships even among the business community.
“The intention of the report was not to create a cover for Jamaica for Jexit,” Holness said, in an apparent reference to Brexit, the decision by Britain to leave the European Union after many decades.
“That’s not the intention of the report. That has been said in other fora, but that’s not the intention. The intention is for once and for all to provide Jamaica with solid empirical studied data and positions that we can bring to this body,” he said, noting that the discussions would lead “to a documentation of these positions that all can see and study”.
Holness said it is a transparent process even as he acknowledged that “ultimately I think we have to approach our relations with a certain level of pragmatism”.
He said while there were all prime ministers around the table, they were also people with aspirations “and you know rhetoric is a part of our trade and at the same time we are policy makers, we are law makers and we have to be practical.”
But he said at some point in time there would be a need to put away the rhetoric, put aside the aspiration “and deal with what is possible and what we can get done”.
“I think we are at a point where we have to be practical . . . let us do what is possible, the others can catch up when they are ready,” said Holness, who added despite being among the new prime ministers at the time, he has spent 25 years in politics.
“Ultimately the purpose of the report is to place on the table a wide range of issues that we can all look at and comfort our own inconsistences, our own special interests and of course what is good for the region,” Holness said.
The Jamaica Parliament has already adopted a resolution that called for a re-evaluation of the integration process, and for member states to commit to implementing a fully functional single market within a five-year period.
The Parliamentary Resolution covered, among other things, the need for CARICOM member states to make a clear commitment to establishing the single market with a “specific time-bound, measurable and verifiable programme of actions to fulfil all outstanding obligations within a period of five years”. (CMC)