Monthly Archives: December 2011

Barbados is not immune to the anti-incumbent fever sweeping the region

Alicia Nicholls

Another one bites the dust!  The Peoples National Party (PNP) has won the Jamaica elections, defeating the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) by 41-22 seats. Former Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, has gotten the nod of approval from the Jamaican people and adds another female face to the CARICOM Heads of Government.

There is no doubt that by tomorrow this latest defeat of another one-term incumbent government in the region is going to set the call-in programmes in Barbados ablaze, and everyone with an opinion is going to be speculating on what if anything this latest defeat means for the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration. My take on it is that Barbados is not immune to the anti-incumbent fever stirring in the region.

Indeed,these are interesting times in our political landscape. I do not even plan on delving into the letter debacle or so-called attempted coup within the DLP, which to my mind was completely blown out of proportion. Putting that aside, strong parallels have been drawn by many political pundits between the election in St Lucia and what they believe to be similar political conditions in Barbados. In the St. Lucia election, the one-term Stephenson King administration was defeated by the St. Lucia Labour Party led by then former Prime Minister Kenny Anthony. Like Mr. King in St. Lucia after the death of Prime Minister John Compton, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart assumed office following the unfortunate death in office of Prime Minister David Thompson from pancreatic cancer last year. Although the circumstances of Mr. Andrew Holness’ rise to power in Jamaica differs from in St Lucia and Barbados, many will rightly see the Jamaica election as further cause for the DLP to be worried.

It is worth noting that at the time when Mr. Stuart became Prime Minister, some learned pundits argued that Mr. Stuart should have sought his ‘own mandate’ from the people. I disagreed with that argument then and still do for two main reasons. First, as prime  ministers are not directly elected, mandates are given to a party, not to a party leader. The Barbadian electorate gave a mandate to the DLP in 2008, which logically extends to Mr. Stuart whether or not he was  party leader at the time. Second, elections are expensive undertakings and I do not think spending money on another election so soon after the last would have been justified, especially in these harsh economic times.

What the elections in St. Lucia and now Jamaica make clear is that no government is immune to the anti-incumbent fever sweeping through the region. In two-party systems like ours in most of the Commonwealth Caribbean, third parties have little if any chance of winning or making a real impact on election results. Therefore, voters like myself are stuck with and taking a hard look at the limited political options before us. If this Government wants to inoculate itself from the anti-incumbent fever and the one-term plague, it has to listen to the people. It is not just about colourful manifestos and pretty campaign speeches. We want real ideas and a clear and cogent vision and plan of action for fostering development and prosperity for all Barbadians. As far as I am concerned, in these upcoming elections, whenever they are called, both political parties (DLP and BLP) have to come good if either gets my vote.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies. You can contact her by email and  follow her on Twitter at @licylaw.

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Jamaicans go to the polls tomorrow

Alicia Nicholls

It is election season in the Caribbean! Just a few weeks ago both Guyana and St. Lucia went to the polls, the first time two countries in the Caribbean held elections on the same day. Here in Barbados our elections are not constitutionally due until January 2013, although the Prime Minister can call elections any time before that.  Tomorrow (December 29th), it is Jamaica’s turn.

Like most Commonwealth Caribbean countries, Jamaica has a two-party system: the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) led by the current Prime Minister, Mr. Andrew Holness, and the Opposition, the People’s National Party, led by former Prime Minister, Mrs. Portia Simpson-Miller. This election brings some interesting dynamics.  The 39-year old Mr. Holness, who formerly served as that country’s Minister of Education,  is not only the youngest person to ever lead Jamaica, but he only took office in  October of this year after the sudden resignation of then Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce Golding. This election also comes on the heels of the election in St Lucia in which the Stephenson King-led United Workers’ Party government was voted out of office in favour of the return of the St Lucia Labour Party, led by former (and now current) Prime Minister, Mr. Kenny Anthony.

From their rhetoric, both the JLP and PNP appear confident of a victory for their respective side in tomorrow’s polls. Although the Gleaner political team has predicted that the incumbent JLP will win 34 of the 63 seats, many argue that the polls are too close to predict a winner.

Elections are always a big thing in the Caribbean, but in these current  economic times they take on even greater importance. Whichever party comes to power will have to find a way of dealing with that country’s rising  unemployment and sluggish economic growth. What we Caribbean people want from our leaders is not rhetoric or empty promises, but solutions to pull our economies out of the doldrums and set us on a path to development and prosperity for all.

Here’s wishing all Jamaicans a peaceful and productive elections process tomorrow and may the better party win!

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy analyst and law student at the University of the West Indies. You can follow her on Twitter at @licylaw or email her.

Courting the Latin Jaguar: Brazil as the world’s 6th largest economy and what this means for CARICOM

Alicia Nicholls

One of the biggest news headlines to grab my attention this past week is that Brazil, the roaring king of the Latin America jaguar economies, has overtaken the United Kingdom to become the world’s sixth largest economy according to the Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). Brazil’s increased economic prowess is part of a general  tectonic shift in the global economic configuration in which emerging economies are becoming more powerful  political and economic players on the world stage. This  phenomenon has led to increased discussion of what this global reconfiguring means for the enhancing of south-south trade, particularly as many developed countries, traditionally the main export markets for developing countries, continue to reel under the global recession. On this occasion, it is worth reflecting on what Brazil’s growing economic prowess means for the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and what potential opportunities our relationship with Brazil presents for our region, particularly from a trade perspective.

CARICOM-Brazil Relationship

Brazil and the countries of CARICOM have long enjoyed a healthy political relationship. In recent years there has been increased commitment by Georgetown (seat of the CARICOM Secretariat) and Brasilia towards deepening  political, economic and cultural ties and collaboration. The year 2010 was a pivotal year for the CARICOM-Brazil relationship as it saw the hosting of the  inaugural CARICOM-Brazil Summit which was  held in Brasilia in April of that year. The summit, hailed as a success by all, led to the signing of the Brasilia Declaration, which was bolstered by several bilateral technical cooperation agreements and Memoranda of Understanding which focused on visa exemptions and technical cooperation in several areas of critical importance to the region, including agriculture, health, tourism, energy and civil defence. Brazil has also called for a CARICOM-Mercosur free trade agreement, which would help to foment greater trade and investment links between the two regions.

Similar to CARICOM’s relationship with China, Brazil’s growing international presence presents opportunities for international collaboration on key issues of importance to the region, such as climate change. However, it also presents opportunities for trade. If there is one thing that can be said about the havoc that the global economic and financial crisis has wrecked on Caribbean economies is that it has reinforced to us the region’s entrenched vulnerability to external shocks, exacerbated by our reliance on too few goods and too few markets for our exports and  tourist arrivals.  CARICOM countries have been forced to accelerate their efforts at export and market diversification. South-south trade has long been mooted as a way of weaning our dependence on our traditional developed country export partners. Brazil, now the world’s 6th largest economy, presents an attractive alternative market for CARICOM. It represents a potential export and tourist market of nearly 200 million people and is Latin America’s largest source country for outward FDI.

CARICOM-Brazil Trade and Investment

CARICOM-Brazil trade has been on the increase. Despite a drop in 2009, it picked up in 2010. However, while Brazil’s imports from CARICOM tripled between 2009 and 2010, the region still registers a large deficit in its trade with Brazil. Moreover, despite the Guyana-Brazil Partial Scope Agreement (2001) which grants tariff preferences on selected items between the two countries, and the completion in 2009 of the Takutu Bridge linking the state of Roraima in Brazil to the town of Lethem in Guyana, trade flows between Brazil and Guyana remain low and highly skewed in Brazil’s favour. Besides the obvious disparities in economic size and export capacity between Brazil and CARICOM, several other factors most likely account for CARICOM’s low penetration of the Brazilian market, including limited private sector capacity and/or will to tap into new markets, language barriers and high shipping and transportation costs.

This huge trade in-balance was one of the issues raised in the inaugural CARICOM-Brazil Summit and several initiatives were proposed to improve it, including agreements on facilitating trade missions. There have been steps taken to address some of these issues. Barbados has sought to tap into the Brazilian tourism market and now receives weekly direct flights between Barbados and São Paulo on GOL Airlines. In July 2011, there was the official launch of the Guyana/Brazil Private Sector Integration Project which seeks to improve trade and investment between the two countries in a more mutually beneficial way.

As Latin America’s largest outward investor, Brazil brings the prospect of investment in our capital scarce economies, with the potential of bringing much needed capital, technology and know-how.  According to the UNCTAD World Investment Report (2011), Brazilian companies have invested in African LDCs, primarily in the extractive industries, but also increasingly in manufacturing and agriculture. However, Brazilian investment in the region is low and there are currently no bilateral investment treaties between Brazil and any CARICOM country.

The future?

Increasing trade and economic engagement with Brazil is not the panacea for our economic problems, nor will it completely solve our vulnerability. However, it is submitted that as emerging economies like Brazil become  greater actors on the world stage, CARICOM countries should court these economies or risk being left even further behind. Brazil represents a key potential export market which should be and is being targeted by the region. Courting this Latin jaguar should be part of our export diversification strategies, with the ultimate goal of parlaying the gains from trade into national and regional development.

Developed countries are jostling with each other to tap into the Mercosur market via free trade agreements. A potential free trade agreement (FTA) between CARICOM and Mercosur could create greater market access for regional goods and services exporters into the Brazilian and Mercosur markets, while also helping to facilitate inward investment. Regional governments, through their investment promotion agencies (IPAs), should take a targeted approach to the promotion of inward Brazilian investment, by seeking to attract and channel investments to strategic growth sectors in their economies. In addition to the standard investment liberalisation and protection provisions, the investment chapter of any potential CARICOM-Mercosur FTA could perhaps contain strong investment promotion provisions, including commitments by the parties to promote cooperation between their respective IPAs.

Regional business support organizations (BSOs) play a key role in developing the export capacity of the region’s firms and in helping export-ready producers to tap into the Brazilian market and convert any market access into market penetration.  Part of this export capacity building should involve language training and cultural awareness. Although a growing number of Brazilians, particularly in large cities, speak English, the learning of the Portuguese language (Brazilian Portuguese) should be encouraged in the region. Fortunately, Portuguese is now offered as a course at several academic institutions, and several local hotels in Barbados have provided language training in Portuguese for their staff.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and a law student at the University of the West Indies. You can contact her by email and follow her on Twitter at @licylaw.

ALBA Cultural Research Scholarships 2011-2012 – Call for applications

I was just perusing Professor Norman Girvan’s blog (a favourite pastime of mine) and came across this call for applications from ALBA’s Cultural Fund.

ALBA is the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America. Three of its eight member states (Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) are CARICOM states. Its Cultural Fund is offering eight (8) scholarships each with a budget of $5,000  under its “Programme of Research Over Latin America and the Caribbean Cultures”.  The current theme is “Construction Processes of Inclusive Societies, Culturally Diverse and Environmentally Responsible in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

For more information, please check out: http://www.normangirvan.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/alba-cultural-research-call-for-applications.pdf

Myrie case going to the Caribbean Court of Justice – Some thoughts

Alicia Nicholls

The Myrie case is heading for the region’s highest court early next year.  For those of you who do not know the unfortunate details involved, this case concerns a young Jamaican lady, Shanique Myrie, who was allegedly subjected to a degrading body cavity search at the Grantley Adams International Airport here in Barbados earlier this year. I use the term alleged because in the absence of any substantive information by the two Governments involved, many of the details in this case remain shrouded in a fog of uncertainty and speculation.

In its original jurisdiction the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice has compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas Establishing the Caribbean Community Including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. Naturally therefore, it would be within the Court’s competence to deal with the main issue involved here, that is, the freedom of movement of Community nationals, which is one of the pillars of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

An intriguing aspect of the CCJ is that per Article 222 of the Revised Treaty, a  person (whether a private individual or company) can, with special leave of the Court, commence proceedings in the Court as a private entity, as opposed to having to rely on its respective State to bring a claim on its behalf.  Outside of investor-state dispute settlement, claims brought by private persons in international dispute settlement fora remain a rarity in international law. However, from a quick perusal of the list of judgments on the CCJ’s website, it seems so far that bringing a  claim as a private entity is the preferred avenue for commencing proceedings in the CCJ in its original jurisdiction (see the most recent case of Hummingbird Rice Mills Ltd v Suriname for example). This lack of preference for State-to-State dispute settlement was also noted by The Honourable Sir Dennis Byron, President of the CCJ in his recent paper.

Turning back to the case at hand, it appears that this is probably the avenue that counsel for Ms. Myrie’s will be taking. While this may be the more expensive route for the Myrie team, it would arguably prevent the more politically unpalatable and potentially divisive alternative of having two CARICOM States (Barbados and Jamaica) seemingly at loggerheads in our highest regional tribunal. Without doubt, it is regrettable that diplomatic means of dispute settlement have failed to resolve this issue.  After all, this case remains a sore point in the relations between the two countries concerned. Moreover, the victim would have to wait longer for justice. However, from an academic standpoint, this case will present an opportunity to see the Court’s treatment of the issue of freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals, as well as the development of the Court’s jurisprudence.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and a law student at the University of the West Indies. You can contact her by email and follow her on Twitter at @Licylaw.