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The Lady is misinformed: She demands what she has already been given…

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The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (TnT) has said that her country must benefit from any assistance given to SVG, even it is humanitarian and urgent aid, such as disaster relief. She is knocking at an open door. That TnT benefits is already the situation. Such benefits have been institutionalized in the economic regime prevailing in the Commonwealth Caribbean for almost fifty years. It is what Caricom is all about.{{more}} This is hardly surprising, as it was a Trinidadian William Demas who led the implementation of the regional integration movement. The dynamics of integration are such that if you have an economic union among a group of islands in which one of them is more advanced industrially than the others and also has oil and gas, then that island is going to benefit disproportionately from the union. Investors will flock to it and simply use the other islands as markets.

We in the small islands understood this and took the attitude that since we have to import the manufactured goods anyway, we might as well import them from TnT. As we would be selling TnT comparatively little, we would have to earn the foreign exchange elsewhere to buy TnT’s manufactured goods. We have done so through banana exports to the UK, tourism and remittances. Demas himself recognized the imbalances in the system and agreed that the Eastern Caribbean be compensated by the establishment of the Caribbean Development Bank and the Agricultural Marketing Protocol. The Protocol under which SVG sold agricultural products mainly to TnT worked well initially. However, once TnT devalued its currency, SVG lost whatever advantage it may have had in agricultural exports. The Protocol then sank into oblivion. TnT, however, continues to enjoy its advantages. It is easy to demonstrate this. Before the introduction of Carifta/Caricom, our exports to TnT and imports from that country were about equal running at just over $1m each way. However, in 2009 for instance, our exports to TnT were a mere $24 million, but our imports from them a whopping $230 million. That is not a trade gap, it is a trade chasm.

It is hardly necessary to point out that if you import so much from a country and it imports so little from you, then you are creating employment in the exporting country without recompense. It is called export led growth.

Even if we ignore the obvious benefits that TnT derives from CARICOM, there are other reasons why it is unwise for that country to become too haughty about assisting the Eastern Caribbean. There are emotional and other ties, particularly among people from TnT, SVG and Grenada. Some families have one set of siblings who are Vincentian and another set, not to mention more distant relatives, who are Trinidadian. There are the ties that arise from having attended the same university or other tertiary institution at the same time. Then there is the unity of adversity. When there has been political strife in one island, it is often to the other islands that many people have fled or arranged to flee. During TnT’s Black Power Revolution, one remembers Prime Minister Cato making ready one of his two houses to accommodate a Trinidadian. The gentleman was an Indian and a distinguished judge. As Mr. Cato said at the time, his action had nothing to do with politics. They had both attended law school in London at the same time and had remained friends ever since.

The saddest aspect of all this is that we have been this way before. When Soufrière erupted in 1979, Dr Williams invited our Prime Minister and his Deputy to see him. They discussed the situation, and afterwards Dr Williams decided what aid would be given to St Vincent. This was promptly dispatched. There was no unseemly rancour in the media. The present case could have been handled in a similar manner. We may be poor and disaster prone, having to cope with both hurricane and volcano. But we have our dignity. Whatever TnT does, we shall not starve nor be without shelter.

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