Boycott! But, who will feel the pain? Jamaica, I fear.

Jamaicans are getting upset about their treatment by fellow CARICOM member, Trinidad and Tobago, over reports of the recent denial of entry to 13 Jamaicans. Some people have decided that the right reaction is to try to hurt T&T financially. “Boycott!” some have cried and some notable efforts have been started by consumers in this direction. But, will boycotting ‘Trinidad’ really hurt that country? It may sound easy to stop buying a particular country’s goods in the supermarkets, but do people really know or understand the impact that a true boycott of that country would mean? It has to go much wider to work and there lies the problem.

Trinidad & Tobago has had the manufacturing edge over Jamaica for many years, and, not surprisingly hold a clear edge in trade, with Jamaica importing many goods from the twin isles. Trinidad has also had the edge in many services, with its companies taking over several Jamaican providers.

Many ‘Jamaican’ goods and services are actually owned by Trinidadian entities or have Trinidad connections. For example, Air Jamaica, until recently, our national carrier, is now folded into Caribbean Airlines. Would the boycotters stop using the ‘regional’ carrier? If so, at what cost?

Jamaica Beverages Limited pushes Trinidad-made soft drinks in the local market: it distributes Chubby, Fruta, Busta and Viva beverages for its parent manufacturing company, SM Jaleel Limited, based in Trinidad. Anyone, thirsty?

In 1999, Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) took a majority stake in Jamaica’s Caribbean Cement Company. Anyone thinking of doing some building work?

For instance, the Trinidadian Neal & Massy conglomerate acquired Jamaican business such as H.D. Hopwood (a 70-year-old Jamaican-based manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceuticals and consumer goods), Gas Products Ltd and a 40 per cent stake in Cool Petroleum Ltd. In 1999  Trinidad’s Guardian Holdings Limited acquired the insurance trio of Dyoll Life, Crown Eagle and Jamaica Mutual who were all ‘Finsaced’ and merged them under the banner Guardian Life. Insurance, anyone?  In 2000, Trinidadian banking giant, RBTT, acquired FINSAC’s 99.9 per cent shareholding in Union Bank of Jamaica and changed its name to RBTT Bank (Jamaica). Union Bank was the result of a merger of the business of four FINSAC-controlled commercial banks and their three allied merchant banks, all seven of which sought Government intervention when faced with insolvency: Citizens Bank; Eagle Commercial Bank; Island Victoria Bank; Workers Savings & Loan Bank; Citizens Merchant Bank; Corporate Merchant Bank; and Island Life Merchant Bank. Where will people put their money or find other banking services.

Trinidad leads Jamaica in many key areas: in petroleum products, mixed juices, detergents, baby diapers, prepared foods, bread and cakes, copper wire, urea, and sweet biscuits. Consumers may well be able to source some items from in Jamaica but are still likely to need to import. We will still be paying another piper.trini-flag

But, if Jamaicans stop buying Trinidadian goods, the first pain will be felt by Jamaican retailers and importers–Trinidadian companies may well already have the money for the goods–who may well be left with stocks unsold? The negative impact will be on Jamaicans. In the short run, what will happen to them and who will be under threat? My eyes turn to Jamaican workers in those retailers and importing groups.

Alternatively, Jamaicans will be without certain goods and services, at least temporarily. The items people want to buy that are not from Trinidad cannot be provided from elsewhere in an instant. So, will shoppers decide to do without certain items? What goods will they turn to, instead? The importers may need to go to US, UK, China and other major producing countries to fill the gap, or maybe other countries in the Americas, say Brazil, or Caribbean countries, before they turn to Jamaican providers–if they exist.

The impact on Jamaican workers and their incomes may be large. I’m not sure how consumers will react when they realise that neighbours and friends are in the firing line of what may seem to be well-intended actions. It’s not necessarily the case, either, that the impacts would be reversible, if sustained and successful.

The links that bind Jamaica and Trinidad are many but often not clear, and if the boycott is to be successful it will need to be complete. Jamaica has to hurt itself in order to try to hurt Trinidad.

It’s something to think about–and might not have been considered much, if at all. For a country already in dire economic straits, and just showing the first signs of turning a stagnant economy towards growth, I wonder how ready people will be to mash down the seedlings that are starting to sprout in terms of upward moving economic activity.

The term is ‘no pain, no gain’. Are we ready to inflict wounds on ourself?

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)