Statement by the Prime Minister

Opening Presentation By The Prime Minister of Jamaica, The Most Hon. Andrew Holness for Parliamentary Debate On the Report of the Commission to Review Jamaica’s Relations Within CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks


There has been much debate in the public domain about CARICOM. Some of the information and the debate in the public domain has not always benefited from a studied view of the issues that surround Jamaica’s participation in CARICOM and speaking Mr Speaker, as the Prime Minister of the country but also as leader of a political party, the expressions that have come sometimes would seek to indicate that there is some reluctance on this side to fully participate in CARICOM. By this debate Mr. Speaker, I wish to put to such thought that there is no reluctance on this side to participate in CARICOM. What we have always maintained is that our participation in whatever regional organization must make sense for Jamaica, and we have also maintained that a weak Jamaica does not make a strong CARICOM and we acknowledge Jamaica’s important leadership role in building and strengthening and sustaining the institution of CARICOM.

We assembled a team of eminent persons to review Jamaica’s participation in CARICOM and advise the Government so that we can take a studied approach to the issues of CARICOM. You will recall that in 2016/ 2017 there was great concern regarding issues of free movement of persons within the region. You would recall that was concern in our business community that there are unfair trade practices particularly to do with the subsidizing of oil and those Mr. Speaker, those concerns rose to the level where it prompted me to assemble this very eminent group of Jamaicans to study the issue and advise the Government.

I want to thank Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding who chaired the committee which was comprised of then Ambassador Nigel Clarke and Dr Damien King, Mr Christopher Levy, Mr Metry Seaga, Mrs Mitchell-Chung, Mr Warren McDonald, Mrs Maxine Henry-Wilson, Prefossor Elenor Brown, Mr Michael Diamond, Mr Dennis Cohen, Mr John Jackson, Mr Kevin O’Brien Chang, Mr William Mahfood, Ambassador Lorne McDonnough, Mr Donnie Bunting and Mr Hugh Johnson. Mr PD Scott eventually replaced Mr William Mahfood who sat in the capacity as President of the PSOJ. I want to publicly thank them for the work they have done and I’m sure the entire house will agree that this is a very well researched, very well put together report and of course Mr. Speaker, the commission consulted very widely, and in fact consulted many Prime Ministers across the region and business leaders and other stakeholders, so I have great confidence in the report and I believe that it is a good tool in directing and helping Government to chart a policy towards CARICOM.

Though we are  the Government, when it comes to regional policy and when you want to ensure that there is sustainability in your policy, it is important that we bring these matters of such national importance to the floor of parliament to allow for debate because Mr. Speaker, we wouldn’t want there to be, God forbid, a change in administration and then there is a change in policy but it is important that for a policy like this that there is continuity, that the community itself can look on Jamaica and rely on its position regardless of which administration is in power, so I thought Mr. Speaker and the leader of the opposition agreed that we should have this national debate in parliament.

So, Mr. Speaker, I propose to very quickly go through the Government’s position on the thirty-two recommendations made in the report. Let me say from the outset that the Government has not accepted all the recommendations on block, there are some that we can agree with and some that we may have to say let’s consider this for the future and there may be some that we would have to examine more closely before we say we could implement and I suspect that, that may be the same approach taken by the opposition.

We can all agree that the Report is timely and that it represents a significant milestone in the on-going dialogue across the region on whether the integration movement is indeed serving the interest of our nationals and Member States. I believe that the work can be regarded as focused and informative and that it will become an integral part of the historical record available to the people of the region.

You would have noted that the Report has thirty-three (33) recommendations, which boldly project a way forward in addressing aspects of our regional relationships that are not fully meeting their intended objectives. They also include approaches which could forge strategic partnerships with other CARIFORUM States in the Northern Caribbean, to buttress the Government’s measures to achieve economic growth.

Our extensive review of the report has identified recommendations at various stages of readiness for implementation, including some that may not be within our reach at this time for various reasons. The recommendations fall into three categories: those recommendations  that present themselves as readily implementable in the short to medium term utilising existing resources and capitalising  on the communities on going reform process; other recommendations that are feasible but which will require significant institutional and legal adjustments including amendments of the revised treaty of Chaguaramas and yet another set of recommendations while ought to be pursued but which are likely to be extraordinary in their requirement for collective political will.

Turning first to some of the Recommendations that have the greatest potential for implementation in the short to medium term, I will begin with matters of governance including performance management, financial management, development financing, institutional framework and economic relations.

PERFORMANCE OVERSIGHT

Recommendation 17 calls for all institutions and agencies to be subjected to a performance evaluation every three year, the reports of which should be made public. This would promote meaningful reprioritization of activities and emphasize the delivery of results. Jamaica fully supports this Recommendation in the context of the Government’s commitment to the principles of transparency and accountability.

Recommendation 4 further highlights the need for oversight of the functioning of the Secretariat, through the establishment of an oversight body comprising eminent persons. In a similar vein, Recommendation 21 calls for the implementation of the 2012 Landell Mills Report, which prescribes reorganization and strengthening of the Secretariat and CARICOM institutions. Both recommendations suggest that the solution rests in strong oversight and reporting functions, a stronger, reliably funded CARICOM Secretariat and a Secretary General who has greater executive authority, alongside accountability for delivery.

The idea of oversight in international and regional organizations is not new. The UN had created the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had established an Eminent Persons Group (EPG). The Office of Internal Oversight Services has assisted the UN Secretary-General in fulfilling his oversight responsibilities by addressing instances of waste and mismanagement. Through its provision of audit, investigation, inspection, and evaluation services, the Office has proven vital to the sustainability and effectiveness of the UN. In like manner, the Eminent Persons Group of ASEAN, which comprises highly distinguished and well-respected citizens from ASEAN member countries are meant to examine the Group’s cooperation activities, undertake thorough reviews of the existing institutional framework and propose appropriate improvements if so required.

However, while the Government embraces the spirit of the recommendations, we do recognize that they hinge on the creation of another institution with attendant budgetary implications and that this is inconsistent with the goal of streamlining the operations of the organization within CARICOM.

We may want to consider instead of establishing new institutions for oversight we could very well have the existing oversight bodies in member countries, most of our countries would have an auditor general for example, to examine the government’s commitments to CARICOM and report to the public which would effectively also be reporting to the CARICOM region on the government’s performance. That may be Mr. speaker one way in which we can increase oversight.

Perhaps however Mr Speaker the more feasible option would be to utilize and empower the existing CARICOM Committee of Ambassadors and there is such a committee of ambassadors which we would probably want to now form as our own group of eminent persons as a means of providing the oversight needed.

I could immediately think Mr. Speaker of utilizing the Former Prime Ministers in the region who would immediately already have a good relation, they would know each other, they would probably – some of them, have connections to the existing administration and would have been elevated out of the political realm into the realm of statesmen and women and could very well use their eminent person status to encourage Government to fulfil their agreements and commitments.

RESULTS-BASED MANAGEMENT

Another Recommendation which focuses on institutional governance is Recommendation 16, which speaks to the mandatory streamlining of Results-Based Management (RBM) principles and calls for the submission of annual reports and audited financial statements to Heads of Governments. The recommendation also calls for the publication of the status of Member States contributions.

Mr. Speaker, that is now not currently done and would add a new dimension of transparency and indeed oversight to the activities to the various institutions of CARICOM which Mr. Speaker, do come at a cost. They are not light on the budget of Jamaica.

As it regards Results-Based Management, we are pleased to note that the implementation is already underway in the Community and we recalled that at the Thirty-Fifth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government held in Antigua and Barbuda in  2014, approved the Community’s Five-Year Strategic Plan, which commits the Secretariat to establish a planning, monitoring and evaluation and reporting system that is based on the principles of Results-Based Management and is in response to the need to target a narrow range of specified outcomes within specified time frames, in relation to the regional development agenda.

In terms of issues related to financial management; in keeping with Recommendation 12, the Government is committed to providing the CARICOM Secretariat with the necessary resources to conduct its work. I am pleased to note that Jamaica has been commended in recent times for keeping pace with our contributions in spite of the harsh economic and financial realities and I commend the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for the strenuous efforts it has made in that regard over the last year. We therefore support the Commission’s proposal for greater incentives or stricter enforcement of sanctions to promote liquidation of Member States subscription arrears.

As the second largest contributor to CARICOM, Jamaica has taken careful note of the scale of assessed contributions for which we are currently obliged to pay 23.15%. Jamaica has long advocated for the basic principle that each Member State of CARICOM should pay its contributions according to its “capacity to pay”, and, as such, we will continue to call for contributions methodology that better reflects each Member States’ capacity to pay in an equitable manner, based on the most current and comparable data available. In that regard, we fully support Recommendation 12 in relation to sharing financial obligations on an equitable basis taking account of variables such as level of indebtedness

We are all well aware that good financial management depends not only on the predictability of funding; it relies also on the standards applied to the allocation and disbursement of funds. Undoubtedly, CARICOM must strive to spend more wisely, more responsibly and in accordance with agreed budget levels.

In that regard, we welcome the considered proposals of the Commission in Recommendation 7 which would make it mandatory for the Secretary General, in accordance with Article 27 (5) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to provide technical assessments, including cost implications prior to the taking of decisions by Heads of Government. We should no longer be expected to adopt initiatives or strategies without the benefit of the transparency provided by the presentation of a thorough analysis of associated costs.

FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT

Some recommendations focused on financing for development, a crucial matter for Jamaica and all CARICOM Member States, given our unique structural characteristics, our unsustainable debt burdens and high levels of vulnerability to exogenous economic and environmental shocks.  In this vein, Recommendation 10 calls for Jamaica’s commitment to the second funding cycle of the Caribbean Development Fund (CDF).

You will recall that CARICOM Middle Developing Countries (MDCs), including Jamaica, had opted out of benefitting from the Country Assistance Programmes (CAPs) of the Caribbean Development Fund until the Second Funding Cycle and that despite our struggle to meet the objectives of our commitment of US $19.69 million under the first funding cycle of the Caribbean Development Fund, we completed payment of our arrears in May 2017.

I remember this Mr. Speaker, because in our last term as Government many appeals were made to us to make payments, and even during those difficult times we still made our attempts. My recollection is that the previous administration also made some attempt to pay and I don’t know how much we actually paid, but Mr. Speaker we in 2017 , in May we completed our obligation to this 19.69 million US dollars to the Caribbean Development Fund.

To reinforce the point Mr. speaker, the agreement within CARICOM was that the MDCs, the Middle Developing Countries or the more developed countries would not seek to benefit from that cycle of funding, so they would contribute but they would not seek to benefit. They would not send in project applications they would allow the lesser developed countries to get the full benefit, but then the second cycle Mr. Speaker, countries would participate. Mr. speaker, but that would also mean that we would have to contribute, Jamaica opted Mr. Speaker, not to contribute and not to ask for or apply for any benefits, any loans, any development assistance from the second funding cycle. Mr. Speaker, the recommendation Mr. Speaker is that we should participate, but at this time Mr. Speaker I think we would have to be frank in saying that it would not be beneficial because the funding cycle has already gone several years and we would only have two years and it is quite likely Mr. Speaker that we would not be able to benefit with the time remaining on the second funding cycle.

INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK

In reviewing the institutional framework, the Commission conducted an extensive examination of Community institutions and agencies, which I understand was no easy feat, given the number of institutions and their locations. Ultimately, the Commission recommended a review and rationalization of these institutions and agencies with a view to reducing costs, eliminating overlaps and improving service delivery.

I recall in that regard that Heads of Government have repeatedly called for such a review and rationalization to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and contribute to the creation of an enabling environment for coordinated management across the Regional Integration Architecture. It is noteworthy that the Commission’s report has underscored that imperative.

We acknowledge that annual meetings are held between the Secretary General and Heads of CARICOM Institutions and Associate Institutions, and that these meetings are geared towards promoting coordination and complementarity in the services offered. We also acknowledge that rationalization of community institutions is a part of the governance priority of the Community’s 5-year Strategic Plan: 2015-2019.

However, in spite of the annual meetings between the Secretary General and Institutions and the Strategic Plan, there are prevailing inefficiencies and overlaps.  We believe therefore, that there is still significant room for improving CARICOM’s operation through a rationalization process and the adoption of approaches aimed at further savings and efficiencies.

FOREIGN POLICY COORDINATION

With respect to Recommendation 26, which speaks to Foreign Policy Coordination and consultation, there is already in place comprehensive procedures to facilitate consultation and coordination of foreign policy issues under the ambit of the Council of Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).  A review of these procedures, though beneficial, would never guarantee the complete avoidance of varying positions. Positions recently taken by CARICOM countries on various regional and international issues have been a clear reminder of the fact that foreign policy coordination should not be equated with foreign policy harmonization. It would be difficult to avoid differences in foreign policy positions in a regional forum like CARICOM, as they are demonstrative of the divergence of national sovereign interests.

I wish to emphasize that point Mr. Speaker, when we talk about CARICOM, we speak with a certain sense of, a romantic sense of a group working in harmony operating as one block as if we had a political union, that is not the case. Mr. Speaker, we do try to coordinate our foreign policy, but it is not always the case that you will have harmony in foreign policy and I think that this is something that we have to accept as just the nature of the regional architecture that we have, that though in our mind we would like to think of the foreign policy as one cohesive, harmonious outlook that is not the case.

IMPLEMENTATION OF CARICOM SINGLE MARKET AND ECONOMY

The Commission’s Report recommends that Jamaica seeks a clear, definitive commitment from all Member States to a specific, time bound, measurable and verifiable programme of action to fulfil all their obligations and complete other requirements for the CSME to be fully established and operational, within the next 5 years.

It is worth recalling that Heads of Government had approved an Implementation Plan in July 2007, 10 years ago, which mandates Member States to implement their outstanding actions on the CSM within four years. The CSME is the CARICOM Single Market Economy and the CSM is the CARICOM Single Market; slight distinction that the economy requires the coordination of monetary policy and fiscal policy whereas the market requires mostly the harmonization of trade related policies and institutions that support the market. That’s just a slight distinction in the terminologies used so CSME would have been five years and CSM would be in four years.

This time frame is notably less than what the Commission has recommended.  The Implementation Plan, I should note failed to address the Single Economy so within this context, the Commission compels us to finally take the bold move towards addressing the elephant in the room.

The Commission is to be commended for the guidance it has provided with respect to feasible options available to Jamaica and other Member States, regarding the matter of implementation of the CSME and trade engagements.

Having regard to the specific recommendations relating to the CSME, the more readily attainable proposals, as supported by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and other relevant authorities, include:

  • Harmonization of Laws and Regulations governing the registration and operation of business;
  • The removal of restrictions on the provision of services;
  • The removal of restrictions on the right of establishment, including ownership of land; you would note Mr Speaker that in some CARICOM Member territories you can’t just go there and buy land. There are specific laws which prohibit non-residents, non-citizens from owning land and there are other requirements that make it mandatory that if you’re going to open a business you have to have a local participating with a certain percentage. These may very well work for those countries and indeed I’m certain that even within our own country there would persons who would agree with that thought but the truth is Mr Speaker our economy and our economic policy on either side of the political divide, we’ve never sought to have that kind of limitation placed on our economy but these are the requirements of some of our countries which pose a possible restriction on countries like Jamaica in doing business within CARICOM

Some of the other things Mr. Speaker that we should pursue and we have had agreement internally would be the

  • Modernization and Harmonization of intellectual Property Legislation; and
  • The Adoption of Conventions relating to the Registration and Administration of Patents, Trade Marks etc.

Recommendation 1.3, relating to Integrated Capital Markets, we believe that an agreed protocol for cross-border regulatory cooperation is essential to any Customs Union. In this regard, we support the view that this recommendation is attainable within the next three years. However, we are also mindful that many Member States are currently at various stages of reform to bring their regulatory landscape in line with international standards.  Consequently, Mr. Speaker, there may be need to apply some flexibility with respect to the timeline for full implementation by all Member States.

In this matter Mr. Speaker, I just want to make a point. The harmonization of legislation throughout the region to deal with the movement of capital and the reporting on taxation issues is happening even outside of the requirement of CARICOM. The truth is that FADCA and the requirements of the OECD and the European Union is driving a process of harmonization. Now, it all depends Mr. Speaker, on whether or not CARICOM heads would be willing to look at what we’re already – I hate to us the term forced to comply with, but what we’re already complying with and seek to get greater alignment for the benefit of CARIOM. So, when we’re speaking Mr. Speaker about harmonizing, it’s happening but not being directed by the region and I think the region could collectively bring to bare some level of harmony in both taxation policy and capital movement policy that could be beneficial for us. I just wanted to make that point there.

Let me now turn attention to the recommendations relating to Right of Establishment set out at Recommendation 1.18, as well as the Services Market referred to in Recommendation 1.16. We believe these recommendations are well-founded, as Member States participating in the CSME have an obligation to remove restrictions on the Right of Establishment and the Right to provide Services across the Region.

In relation to the Right of Establishment, all Member States are to pass the requisite Regulation to facilitate the movement of managerial, technical and supervisory staff.  Jamaica is also assessing its implementation of the Regime, to ensure that no further restrictions exist. Jamaica has enacted the Caribbean Community Establishment, Services, Capital and Movement of Community Nationals Act 2004 and I believe Mr. speaker we would probably be the most advanced country in CARICOM in complying with the free movement of labour and people.

From a legal perspective, the Commission’s proposal at Recommendation 1.2 on the full free movement of persons throughout the Community, which is subject only to exclusions for security and public health reasons, is quite feasible and consistent with the rulings of the CCJ. It will be recalled that the Shanique Myrie case clearly established some benchmarks for what is to be achieved. It will now be a matter for the organs and bodies of CARICOM, in consultation with the respective Member States, to decide whether these goals may be attainable within a five-year time period.

Further, it is recommended that in addition to security and public health consideration, which are in keeping with Articles 225 and 226 respectively, of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, that a further exception to free movement mentions the grounds of ‘becoming a charge on public funds’. This would be consistent with the 2007 Conference Decision which was taken into account in the Shanique Myrie Case.

Just to emphasize that point So Mr. Speaker, Jamaica’s position is that there should be only three exceptions to the free movements of persons: health, security and we agree that there should be consideration because we are small countries that the movement of individuals should not become a burden of the public purse of the country in which they’re going and I think that is a reasonable position Mr. Speaker.

Finally, there is still need for clarity with respect to the applicability of the exceptions, so as not to potentially erode the right to free movement or lead to unnecessary litigation processes, where that right is in fact properly invoked. It is important to note that the burden falls on the Member State that invokes the exception. It is equally important to underscore that the right to free movement requires persons seeking to move within the CSME region, to enter through properly appointed ports, so as not to be removed because of illegal entry. They must also abide by the conditions of entry, so as not to be removed for reasons of violation of said terms.

The Report also proposes the establishment of an agreed framework in relation to the operation of Citizenship by Investment Programmes (CIP) which are growing and popular within many member states of CARICOM . This would include appropriate protocols and safeguards regarding the terms, conditions, qualifications and restrictions on participation in the Citizenship by Investment Programmes (CIP).

Just to be clear Mr. Speaker, so that we understand not many persons would know what these programs are, there are countries that set up a framework in which a foreign national could apply for citizenship in one of our member state countries by virtue of meeting some minimum threshold of investment. Once that investment is made then citizenship is automatic, they get a passport and they become entitled to the full benefits of the country. Some members have expressed concerns about the program, there is a fear that some persons from countries that are blacklisted or countries in which their citizens are fleeing or listed as terrorists could find their way into the Caribbean and gaining access to one country would give them access to all countries by virtue of having a CARICOM passport.  It is a concern that has been raised, to be fair, countries with CIP programmes have stressed that they go through rigorous checks. They check with their counterparts in the United States, in the UK and in the European Union to make sure that persons who are applying for citizenship meet the highest standards and that they are on no watch lists or are in anyway blacklisted. However, it just takes one misstep and the entire region could be brought into question. There has to be an agreed protocol and frameworks around the Citizenship by Investment Programmes.

Now Mr. Speaker I want to make it clear that there are some persons who have raised with me that Jamaica at some point in time contemplated a Citizenship by Investment Programme. I’m not aware of that Mr. speaker, what we contemplated, both administrations, was an economic residency program which would place any foreign national seeking to gain Jamaican citizenship on a pathway by virtue of making a certain threshold of investment but there is no automatic award of citizenship. So, they would have to come to Jamaica, make their investments, we would have to have an opportunity to assess them and they would have to go through the process of acquiring citizenship. That Mr. speaker, is still under consideration the Government has not put it on a priority list of things to be done. But it is still under consideration and Mr. Speaker once we have a frame work agreed within CARICOM about how we treat with these programmes then we would seek to fast track our own program of economic residency.

It should be noted Mr. Speaker, that we have taken the time to ensure that the persons who have benefited from CIP programmes in other countries that the systems are in place to ensure that there is no threat to Jamaica from those persons who are benefiting.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, thank you members I promise that I will spear you the sufficient time to finish because this indeed an extensive report and I may not need to go through every single recommendation in detail. So, I will update the house one the ones that I consider to be of great importance.

 

TRADE ISSUES

Let me now address those trade agreements which might be a little more challenging to accomplish within the five years, without strong political will. A longstanding controversial issue is the Removal of all Non-Tariff Barriers to trade, now here is where we really have contention in CARICOM.

CARICOM has done considerable work in its efforts to implement a myriad of harmonization protocols and policies to minimize obstacles to trade in this area.  These include, the establishment of various regulatory mechanisms, namely the Caribbean Agriculture, Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) and CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROS Q); discussed further below. Notwithstanding the existence of these mechanisms as well as the various monitoring frameworks, there are still significant challenges being experienced as manifested in ongoing disputes among Member States.

Yet another complex issue is the free circulation of goods imported from outside the CSME once the appropriate import charges have been paid at the original port of entry. This matter is sensitive and has implications for revenue collection by Member States, since in such a scenario the port of final destination would not be the port of entry for the good. The port of destination would therefore, must rely on the administrators of the entry port to collect and remit the applicable duties and charges.

Now Mr. Speaker just from a practical point of view. If we truly have a common market and a single economy then it doesn’t really matter which port the goods enter because we’re all part of one market and we have a standardized set of duties. But Mr. Speaker you can imagine how difficult it would be to coordinate that because it might be easier for a shipping company to land goods in Jamaica destined for Trinidad but Mr. Speaker because there might be differential practices it might not be beneficial to do it now. But It would certainly Mr. Speaker improve business within the region but as said these are some of the difficult trade issues that we have to deal with.

A further major issue of contention involves the “Rules of Origin” criteria.  Among the questions still being debated in relation to extra-regional importation of raw materials to make a final product are: (i) Will the final product be allowed to benefit from free circulation?  and (ii) What are the additional measures that will be implemented to ensure the Rules of Origin criteria are effectively monitored?

Recommendation 28 urges CARICOM to conduct all future negotiations of trade or economic agreements, as far as possible, through CARIFORUM. While it is generally agreed that negotiating through CARIFORUM would offer greater leverage and would facilitate a stronger negotiating position, it would be imperative that CARICOM’s relationship with CARIFORUM be realigned if it is to gain any tangible benefits from this option. This could prove to be an extremely complex process.

It will be recalled that the CARIFORUM framework (comprising CARICOM plus Cuba and the Dominican Republic) was specially developed in the context of a trade and development cooperation relationship between the ACP and the EU. In order to apply this functional group arrangement in other spheres, CARICOM’s existing trade arrangements with Cuba and the Dominican Republic would necessarily have to be restructured or replaced.

Having said this, however, I should indicate that an interesting process is currently emerging, whereby CARICOM and the Dominican Republic are examining modalities for concluding a trade agreement with the UK in a post-BREXIT scenario to which I referred earlier, drawing on the existing CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement provisions. It remains to be seen whether this kind of collaborative process, beyond CARICOM, could be extended to other future trading arrangements at the regional or multilateral level.

With regard to an agreed protocol on sanitary and phytosanitary standards and procedures set out at Recommendation 1.7, CARICOM has already taken steps in that regard. Positive developments include the establishment of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) to, among other things, coordinate and organize an effective and efficient regional sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regime and to also execute on behalf of Member States such actions and activities that are more effectively and efficiently executed through a regional mechanism.

HARMONIZATION OF LAWS & STANDARDS

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the recommendations relating to harmonisation of laws and regulations governing the registration and operation of businesses and standardization of incorporation requirements, the Community is making strides in these areas which will ultimately facilitate a more enabling environment for businesses to operate in the Region. The finalization of the Caribbean Community Companies (Right of Establishment) Bill remains outstanding and urgently requires timely attention by Heads of Government.

With reference to the Online Company Registry, the current approach does not facilitate a single registration system per se but to provide a mechanism for the public to, among other things, conduct searches contained in the thirteen (13) company’s registries.

CARICOM has also established the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) to coordinate the development and harmonization of regional standards in keeping with the relevant international Code of Good Practice for Standards development. However, in spite of the progress made to date, there is much more work to be done to ensure complementarity of standards and procedures as well as ensuring equivalent levels of capacity among Member States to enforce them.

REGULATION OF SERVICES

As it relates to Services Market, based on the CSME Implementation Plan 2017-2019, most Member States have enacted the necessary legislation, and are to introduce Regulations to inter alia, provide for:

  • A National Registrar of Service Providers;
  • A National Register of Service Providers;
  • The prescribed Certificate of Recognition; and
  • The prescribed procedures for application and issuance of the Certificate of Recognition

Jamaica has a strong interest in the Services Regime and would like to see it fully operational as soon as possible.

 

COMPETITION

Turning to the issue of Fair Competition and Consumer Protection, the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) are of the view that the recommendations, particularly those relating to Fair Competition & Consumer Protection regulations and processes, are achievable within the five year period.   Already, Jamaica is in compliance with its obligation by virtue of our Fair Competition Act (1993 which was amended in 2001) and the Consumer Protection Act (2005) as well as the accompanying regulations in respect of each.

Other regional jurisdictions with competition and consumer protection legislation include Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana.  Over the years, the FTC has been actively assisting other Member States, particularly members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), to enact competition and consumer protection legislation.  The FTC currently chairs the CSME Unit’s Subcommittee of the Reconvened Task Force on Competition, whose objective is to examine the jurisdictional, legal and financial implications of having national competition authorities established in all Member States, together with the required support systems.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT

We fully support Recommendation 1.19 on public procurement which calls for the removal of restrictions preventing suppliers of goods and services from qualifying for government contracts in other Member States. This will contribute to an enhanced scope for micro, small and medium sized enterprises to take advantage of procurement opportunities in Member States.

Thankfully, CARICOM Member States have recognised the importance of an effective, transparent and equitable public procurement regime across the region. In keeping with the commitments outlined in Article 239 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, a draft Protocol on Public Procurement for the Caribbean Community is being finalized by Member States. The Protocol aims to remove existing restrictions and harmonize Public Procurement legislation and procedures throughout the CARICOM Region.  This will help to reinforce the essential elements for the effective operation of the CSME.

COUNTRY DESIGNATIONS

I now want to address, in greater depth, issues affecting the designation status of CARICOM member states including middle income countries like Jamaica. Among the recommendations posited by the Commission in Recommendation 9, is the elimination of the differentiation between the More Developed Countries (MDCs) and the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) in CARICOM, while retaining the provisions in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas for “Special Treatment of disadvantaged countries, regions, and sectors”. The merit of the Commission’s proposals lays in the fact that there are no stated and clearly defined criteria for the condition of differentiation. Furthermore, it may well be that some LDCs are in a better position to make a greater contribution to financing the CARICOM Secretariat and its institutions.

Well if you look at the traditional classification of countries as LDCs and MDCs and the you look at their per capita ranking you will see that many of them in fact, I believe all of them now ranked above Jamaica. So, the criteria that was applied, the taxonomy that was applied thirty, forty years ago definitely needs to be revisited, reviewed and I think personally abandoned now.  So, we agree with the recommendation that should be revised.

CARIBBEAN COURT OF JUSTICE

Recommendation 23 calls for the restructuring of existing dispute settlement arrangements in the Community, through the establishment of a Central Dispute Settlement Body. This is an attempt to imitate the structure of WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU).

This recommendation, however, has perhaps not accounted for the fact that the WTO does not have a court as part of its dispute settlement system, whereas the CARICOM region has access to the CCJ for the purpose of dispute resolution in trade. The establishment of a central dispute settlement body would therefore, represent a duplication of existing institutions and mandates.

ENERGY SUBSIDIES

An issue of concern to the Jamaican business community over an extended period, has been the issue of the difference in the cost of energy across the region, based largely on the application of subsidies. With respect to Recommendation 25, we have taken note of the proposal for CARICOM to approach the CCJ for a final determination about whether domestic subsidies provided by a Member State relating to the supply of energy constitute a violation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

In theory, this could be the subject of a request for an advisory opinion under article 212. However, there are several caveats. Only the Community and Parties to a dispute can request an advisory opinion. Also, the subject matter of the request – that is, energy and subsidies –  would have to be covered by the RTC. It should be noted that this issue has also proven contentious within the European context, as the EU is yet to arrive at an outcome satisfactory to all involved parties.

Mr. Speaker let me say on this issue, that I invited the Prime Minister of Trinidad to pay us an official visit and he did, so I believe in 2017 and we had frank discussions on the issue of energy; He pointed out that their Government has made certain efforts to take off any subsidy that may have existed on their petroleum. It is still contentious issue, it is still a contentious issue for Jamaican businesses. But Mr. Speaker I wish to say that the energy policy being pursued by Jamaica including the upgrade of our refinery, moving to greater renewable energy and converting to LNG will in fact lessen the impact and dependency on oil and indeed oil and petroleum products coming from within the region. But this matter Mr. Speaker is still one that is not resolved.

CONCLUSION

I must reiterate my appreciation to the Chairman of the Commission on his outstanding leadership and work, as well as for the valuable contribution of the other eighteen (18) distinguished Members of the Commission. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their skill and dedication throughout their robust review of CARICOM’s performance against its Revised Treaty objectives and assessing its benefits to Jamaica, including its contribution to our economic growth.

I also want to record my gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for the extensive work that it has undertaken, not only as the Secretariat of the Commission but also in facilitating various analyses of the findings of the Reports and the related Recommendations.

Since tabling the report in February of this year, the entire region has awaited the Government’s final position on the document. Having explored the recommendations in detail, I think it only appropriate that they be granted the requisite bi-partisan consideration, so that they may be duly shared with my CARICOM Colleagues for discussion at the upcoming Regular Meeting of the Conference in July.

I thank you Mr. Speaker and look forward to your robust contribution to our debate on this critical Report. The effectiveness of the regional integration process in CARICOM begs our collective constructive inputs.