The Jamaica/Trinidad and Tobago Trade Facilitation Desk became operational on May 1, 2012, when Mrs Naika Pichi-Ayers was appointed trade desk officer. Officially launched in the twin-island republic last year, this long-awaited and much-needed private sector initiative has been lamented ever since the removal of commercial attachés from our embassies and high commissions due to government austerity measures. Various trade difficulties ensued as a result of this void, culminating in the recently resolved patty dispute.
To encourage dialogue and increase understanding to promote the roles and responsibilities of the trade desk and share ideas and concerns with the business community, Mrs Pichi-Ayers had meetings in Jamaica with key players and trade representatives in the government and private sector. Those visited included: the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Commerce, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture, Port Authority, Jamaica Promotions Corporation, American Chamber of Commerce and the Bureau of Standards.
During a meeting organised by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Jamaica Manufacturers Association and Jamaica Exporters Association, Mrs Pichi-Ayers recorded some of the trade problems experienced by Jamaican businesses exporting to Trinidad and Tobago. Some of those main difficulties were:
* The lack of transparency at the T&T Chemistry, Food and Drugs Division
* Excessive number of business development organisations and regulatory agencies that make the gathering of information a difficult process in T&T
* T&T manufacturers and distributors are sourcing goods from third countries, before considering the products from within the region
* T&T manufacturers are believed to be benefiting from alleged government subsidies that help them gain a larger market share regionally.
Mrs Pichi-Ayers indicated it was not possible to address complaints without evidence. So far she has contacted 168 potential and operational exporters to T&T who have referred to the press as being unduly cautious in reporting on Jamaica/Trinidad trade.
Following the meeting with trade associations and personnel, Mrs Pichi-Ayers explained that the following situations would receive her urgent attention:
* Liaise with the main trade-related institutions in Jamaica and provide regular information on T&T market opportunities, standards and regulations
* Facilitate match-making between Jamaican and T&T businesses, and follow up on ongoing distributor searches for Jamaican companies in T&T, with the support of the Trinidad Chamber of Industry and Commerce
* Encourage and facilitate participation of Jamaican firms and organisations in exhibitions and seminars in T&T to encourage collaboration
* Promote the trade desk through various communication channels, to enhance the awareness of the Jamaican private and public sectors.
For further clarity and understanding, the existence of the trade desk would be explained during the next meeting of the Jamaica Trade and Adjustment Team. Periodic information and trade results together with indications of the various trends and patterns of trade between Jamaica and T&T would also be reported in the press for the benefit of present and future exporters to T&T.
Given the well-documented difficulties experienced by Jamaican exporters to T&T by their regulatory agencies led by the T&T Chemistry, Food & Drugs Division, the trade desk officer was given the opportunity to visit the Jamaica Import/Export Inspection Centre called the "One Stop Shop" established in 2009 as part of the Jamaican Government's Public Sector Modernisation Programme. The centre accommodates representatives of the following:
* Veterinary Services Division
* Plant Quarantine/Produce inspection
* Jamaica Customs
* Public Health
* Pesticides Control Authority
* Pharmaceutical Division
* Bureau of Standards Jamaica
* Food Storage and Prevention of Infestation Division.
The centre allows importers and exporters faster processing of documents and cargo, resulting in the handling of goods more efficiently. The benefits of this innovative development should be brought to the attention of the T&T authorities to assist in streamlining the entry, transit and departure of cargo in and out of the territory, and swifter clearance of exempted goods, that if replicated in T&T would go a long way to simplifying and speeding up their regulatory system.
As with other regional trading groups such as the North America Free Trade Agreement, the European Union on which Caricom is modelled, the Southern Cone countries of Mercosur, the Andean Group, etc, all have experienced growing pains similar to Caricom which have been resolved through negotiation and dispute resolution mechanisms embedded in their heads of agreements. Caricom must strive to free itself from its historical past and move into the relentless and fast-moving pace of development characteristic of the 21st century.
The trade desk is uniquely a private sector initiative which has emerged due to the foresight of the Bermudez Group that originated and funded the project, coincidentally at the same time that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas is being reformed. The two developments should provide more than a remedy for current trading difficulties, while creating a way forward to improve and increase the volume of trade in goods and services between Jamaica and T&T.
Please remember that in the event of a complaint, the problem should be reported to the trade desk officer, accompanied by factual information about the incident. Without such definitive evidence, the issue cannot be effectively investigated. If further assistance is required, please contact Mrs Thasya Chin-Fletcher at the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce. Both the Jamaica Manufacturers Association and the Jamaica Exporters Association are supporters of the trade desk project and are also ready to assist.