Ja battled sugar, visas

JAMAICA – Sugar, bananas, Cayman visas, the Prime Minister’s travel expenses and Venezuelan oil all featured prominently in this year’s foreign affairs in Jamaica.

The launch of the CARICOM Single Market, what might have been the most significant story, came one day late for 2005. However, among other steps towards regional integration – including, of course, readying for CSM – the year saw the inauguration of the Caribbean Court of Justice based in Trinidad, reports the Jamaica Gleaner.

After years of back-and-forth between the World Trade Organisation, the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, Jamaica lost out on sugar and bananas.

This came when the traditional preferential trading agreements between ex-colonial powers and their former colonies were again ruled against by the WTO following complaints of anti-competitiveness by rival producing countries. The process had rejected EU price and tariff cuts as insufficient.

“Reform too fast, too deep, too soon,” warned the ACP group of states pondering an estimated loss of ยค400 million (CI$30.4 billion) in annual income amongst its 18 sugar-producing members.

Visas are rarely positive news for Jamaica and it was no different with the Cayman Islands, where 11,500 Jamaicans presently live, most of whom possess work permits. All Jamaican visitors now need a visa, and following threats by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to do so, Jamaica soon retaliated by instituting its own visa regime for Caymanians.

The Prime Minister was also displeased over a Gleaner exclusive which revealed that his 42 official trips in the years 2001-4 cost the country US$21 million.

“If I have to go to Geneva, that’s where I must go; if I have to go to Washington, that’s where I must go; if I have to make solidarity with the Group of 77 and China … that is what I shall do until I make way,” he argued during a speech he made at the Denbigh Show grounds in Clarendon in the aftermath of the news report.

Good news came with Venezuela’s PetroCaribe deal under which the world’s seventh largest producer is offering oil to the island under a deferred payment programme. Jamaica will benefit in the form of loans at preferential rates, intended to aid regional development.

This deal came at a time when Jamaica had been struggling to come to grips with its oil dependency which saw the cost of imports break US$1 billion in 2004.