Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | April 29, 2009
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CRNM losing autonomy - Trade-negotiating body to be absorbed by CARICOM secretariat

From left, Carrington, Bernal, Jagdeo, Baugh and Ramphal.

Dionne Rose, Business Reporter

Although insistent that it will happen, the Caribbean Community's (CARICOM) economy ministers are yet to determine precisely how the region's hitherto autonomous trade-negotiating unit will be absorbed into the grouping's Guyana-based secretariat.

At their summit in Belize earlier this year, the heads of government of the 15-member Caricom signed off on plans for Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) to become of a specialsied unit of the secretariat that is headed by Edwin Carrington.

But this week, Jamaica's foreign affairs and foreign trade minister Ken Baugh told Wednesday Business: "... The question of how to implement the decisions taken is not yet completely rationalised.

" It has not yet gone back to the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED) as to how the decisions will be implemented."

The CRNM was established in 1997 as a mechanism to handle trade negotiations on behalf of the community, but its status as a quasi-independent body reporting directly to the heads of government via the prime minister with responsibility for Caricom's external relations has always been contentious.


Critics felt that a body pursuing actions and taking decisions binding on the Caricom, it made sense for the CRNM to fall under the secretariat.

But part of the initial issue, regional sources say, was the need to accommodate the CRNM's first director general, Sir Shridath Ramphal, a regional elder statesman, who took up the post after serving as head of the Commonwealth secretariat.

"You were not going to just put Sir Shridath within the framework of the secretariat," explained one regional source.

Additionally, at the time there were questions, too, which remain, about the nimbleness of the secretariat.

However, when Jamaican Richard Bernal succeed Sir Shridath, the arrangement of the CRNM as an autonomous body remained, although the questions never went away. While the CRNM maintained its major offices in Jamaica, Bernal was based in Jamaica, where he was close to the island's prime minister, who has oversight responsibility for Caricom's external relations.

But the issue of the CRNM's structure and reporting arrangements, although not quite open, rumbled loudly after its negotiations with the Dominican Republic as party to the talks of reciprocal free-trade pact with the European Union (EU).

Sticking points

That agreement was finalised 16 months ago but critics say the region's negotiators gave away too much and got too little. Among its harshest critics was Guyana's president, Bharrat Jagdeo, who claimed that the CRNM operated "as though it's an independent entity vested with different powers".

Jagdeo argued for the agency to be brought under the authority of the Caricom secretariat.

It is not clear what Jamaica's position was on reporting arrangements but Golding was strident in his support of the EPA, publicly characterising the behaviour of its critics to mendicants, who only wanted to go cap in hand to rich countries. In fact, some analysts say Golding, in the closing days in the negotiations, was in close contact with Bernal, seeking to remove sticking points between Caribbean and European negotiators.

Although it is said that his plans were in place long before the fall-out, Bernal - an economist who once served for a decade as Jamaica's ambassador to the United States resigned as the CRNM's boss shortly after the conclusion of the EPA negations. He took up a post at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as alternate executive director for the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Bernal was succeeded by Trinidadian Henry Gill.

Bernal has not himself publicly commented on the issue and a spokesperson at the CRNM's Barbados office declined to be drawn on the matter.

"We are not making any comments," she said.

Baugh, however, told Wednesday Business that the issue was likely to be taken up at the next COTED meeting "for us to follow through on the decision taken in terms of the implementation".

Added Baugh: "The CRNM is not dissolved. It is now to be a specialised unit within the secretariat. There was always an issue of what was the structure of the CRNM in relation to the structure of CARICOM," he explained.


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