Considering Special and Differential Treatment for Disadvantaged Countries, Regions and Sectors
“The most unfair treatment is to treat things that are different the same. What is more unfair is to perpetuate the dependence of the already disadvantaged by creating a culture for derogation from the norms and obligations under the system, that promotes dependence and hinders adaptation.”
Notwithstanding the laudable objectives of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, a xenophobic culture among its constituents has threatened to undermine the CSME, even before its inception. Although boastful of its regional identity and interdependence, the xenophobia and dependence that has long plague this emancipated region, has instigated a myopic insistence on special and differential treatment for countries, regions and sectors disadvantaged under the system.
It is beyond challenge, that the proposed regional trading arrangements would lack equity and prospects for longevity, if it made no allowance for special and differential treatment. However, arguments for special and differential treatment for various countries, regions and sectors, although having some merit, have for the most part taken the form of highly politicised and emotional arguments, often lacking objectivity. The politicising of the debate without recourse to constructive application of established rules and principles of trade has unfortunately resulted in some legitimate economic and social concerns being undermined. While there is need to advance the notion of special and differential treatment for disadvantaged constituents, there is a prevailing need to distinguish the two cases in which special and differential treatment is being advocated. The first relates to situations in which the introduction of competition under the system has created a transitional or temporary disadvantage. The other speaks to circumstances where lack of competitiveness through blind adherence to inefficient trade practices and policies has created a permanent inability to adapt to the new trade climate. While the rules1 provide a remedy for transitional or temporary disadvantage, there can be little tolerance for inefficiency under the proposed trade system or any other liberalised trade arrangements.
Regrettably, arguments for special and differential treatment although occasionally meritorious, have generally been in defence of inefficient trade practices. Additionally, these approaches are generally based on the same lines or argument rejected by the WTO2 , despite many failed appeals. The gist of these arguments have generally been that less developed countries assume a disadvantaged position within a unified system of trade and should therefore assume the same privileges and rights as their more developed trade partners, with limited requirement for reciprocity and lesser obligations under the system. Slowly the principle of non-reciprocity, under the WTO and its multilateral agreements, is being whittled away, with beneficiaries of the system being required to reciprocate to some degree or to justify derogation. Proponents of non-reciprocity under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy may therefore be hard pressed to defend this proposition.
Special and differential treatment under the CSME is essential in maintaining an equitable trade system, which is consistent with, and supports individual national development objectives and strategies as well as continuing regional commitment to its advancement. It is conceded that uniform rights and obligations, among similar but in many respects diverse member states, could not serve the best interests of individual states or the region. However, derogation from rights and obligations under the system ought not to revolve around deviation from rules to protect sectors permanently incapable of suitable adaptation. Rather, the pivotal objective ought to be the upholding of individual economic and social rights and interests that promote the advancement and sustainability of the region.
There is need for countries, regions and sectors that claim transitional or temporary disadvantage as a result of the implementation of the CSME, to assess the impact of liberalisation and to explore measures that may effectively address the particular adversity. In so doing, they must seek to exploit the established rules of trade in developing strategies for minimising the negative impacts of trade liberalisation while maximising the benefits of its advantages.
1 Chapter Seven, Disadvantaged Countries, Regions, Sectors; Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas Establishing the Caribbean Community including the Caribbean Single Market and Economy provides for transitionary initiatives to stem the dislocation and disruption to economies and industries that may affect disadvantaged countries, regions and sectors following the implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.
2The World Trade Organisation (WTO)