July 12, 2010

Kamla stuns CARICOM

Whatever Caricom’s leaders might have been expecting from the stylish Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago with her sunny smile and nimble dance moves, they had to adjust their thinking quickly to accommodate a tough talking politician keen to forge a different agenda for Trinidad and Tobago in the region.

That was the Kamla Persad-Bissessar who quickly became the darling of the region’s cartoonists, the line renditions of her on the commentary pages of the region’s press portraying a straight talking leader who in one Observer illustration was seen waving away Jamaican politicos with a stern warning to “Move from mi stall, unoo think is a ATM machine dis!” The Jamaican translation of Prime Minister Bissessar’s metaphorical warning that Trinidad and Tobago would be seeking relationships with its Caribbean peers that delivered mutual value rather than simply handing out aid support was, in its own way, accurate.

After declaring constraints on the economy at home and warning that new fiscal regimes and reallocations might be necessary to deliver on the People Partnership’s promises, the Prime Minister could not very well appear at the 31st Caricom Summit with a continuance of the goodie bags offered by her predecessor to the region.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar will now have to find balances between constraint and co-operation in changing the basis of this country’s relationships with regional leaders who were sent into a tailspin by the reversal of several of Trinidad and Tobago’s previously declared initiatives in the region. Chairing the region’s National Security Committee, the Prime Minister withdrew Trinidad and Tobago’s funding for several regional programmes.

Ultimately, the PM may have to revisit at least some of those initiatives, particularly those which pool patrol and surveillance resources with our closest regional neighbours to develop stronger and more effective countermeasures to the incursions of the drug trade.

The Prime Minister’s positions at the summit will play well locally with those who feel that Trinidad and Tobago must settle its crime situation decisively before looking to the region, but the reality is that the archipelago as a whole is vulnerable to determined drug runners, and each island’s security failings will ultimately diminish the sustainable economies of its trade partners.

Jamaica in particular, is Trinidad and Tobago’s strongest trade partner and the largest recipient of this country’s manufactured products and that business relationship needs to be managed to the benefit of both countries.

This must have been foremost on the Prime Minister’s mind when she attended a luncheon with members of the Jamaican business community and promised those in attendance that she would “find amicable solutions” to the issues between business operating in both countries.

Persad-Bissessar urged Jamaican and Trinidad and Tobago’s business leaders to participate in a three-pronged effort to drive innovative improvements, deepen alliances between each nation’s business communities and to explore more meaningful business partnerships. “Rather desperately, we need to join forces to impact in a sustainable way on the international scenario, so let us not in some ways concentrate on our differences and engage in warfare in the region.”

It is incumbent on the Prime Minister and her Trade Minister to ensure that there is adequate follow through on her promises to defuse the source of those differences and review the complaints of Jamaican manufacturers and exporters in the best interests of developing strong regional trade partners. If nothing else, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar made it clear at the Summit that Trinidad and Tobago would be retiring from its role as Caribbean financial godfather in favour of regimes that engaged more co-operative regional efforts at driving the many initiatives of Caricom that have languished over the years.

If her tough talk results in greater commitment from other strong nations in Caricom to the initiatives they have promised to support and a more robust monitoring and administration of the targets that the regional body has set itself, then the Prime Minister’s shake up of Caribbean leaders will only redound to the benefit of the region as a whole.

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