Monthly Archives: July 2016

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Turning the Brexit lemon into lemonade for Caribbean countries

Alicia Nicholls

In a non-binding referendum on June 23, 2016 the British public by a 52 to 48% margin voted for the United Kingdom (UK) to withdraw from the European Union (EU). Although the UK has not yet triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union (Treaty of Lisbon), there is understandable concern among Caribbean countries about what implications the UK’s possible exit from the EU (Brexit) will have for their relationships with both the UK and EU. While I believe and have written elsewhere that Brexit will pose challenges to the small island developing states of the Caribbean, we need to think strategically and carefully about how we will turn this Brexit lemon into lemonade for our relations with both trading partners. 

The countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean and the UK have a longstanding relationship. Barbados, for example, was under continuous British rule from 1627 until gaining its independence in 1966 and retains strong diplomatic, historical and cultural bonds which will not necessarily change due to Brexit. Commercial bonds exist as well. The UK accounts for almost 40% of Barbados tourist arrivals and is our largest export market in Europe. According to data retrieved from ITC Trade Map, Barbados exported US $13,879,000 worth of goods to the UK in 2015 but imported US$68,198,000 from that country in the same year, reflecting a merchandise trade deficit in the UK’s favour of US$54,319,000.

Trade 
One of the early impacts of Brexit is the depreciation of Sterling against the world’s major currencies, including the US dollar to which most Commonwealth Caribbean countries’ currencies are pegged. At the time of writing, the exchange rate is 1 GBP to $1.31 USD. Weaker Sterling would make UK goods and services cheaper for Caribbean importers. The increase in the importation of British goods would likely widen Caribbean countries’ trade deficits with the UK. However, it will also provide cost savings for local businesses which import frequently from that country and for Caribbean consumers of UK services (e.g: education, travel) in all four modes of services supply.

Although Caribbean goods and services exports will be more expensive and less competitive to UK importers, one way our exporters could possibly mitigate this is by quoting their British buyers in British pounds. This would eliminate the currency risk for the British importer. The Caribbean exporter could build a small buffer into their pricing to mitigate some of the currency risk on their own end. We also need to use this opportunity to expand beyond the traditional exports to the UK by developing new and underdeveloped services exports such as in the cultural industries, consultancy services, medical tourism and the like.

Once the UK has concluded its withdrawal from the EU it will cease to be a party to any EU trade treaties, including the CARIFORUM-EC Economic Partnership Agreement. The EPA, which was signed in 2008, provides CARIFORUM countries (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) with duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market on the basis of asymmetrical reciprocity – reciprocity which takes into account differences in size between the EU and CARIFORUM. A major value added of the EPA, besides its development component, is the market access concessions it provides for CARIFORUM service providers, particularly under Mode 4 (presence of natural persons), the most restricted mode of services supply.

Until a withdrawal agreement with the EU has been finalised, the UK will continue to be bound by its obligations under the EPA. However, to safeguard their trade interests within the post-Brexit UK market, Commonwealth Caribbean territories , as part of CARICOM or CARIFORUM, should be proactive not only in monitoring the negotiations between the UK and the EU but also in lobbying for the negotiation of a new trade arrangement with the UK post-Brexit. Australia has already indicated its interest in negotiating a post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK. Although it is conceded that the Caribbean will unlikely be among those priority countries/regions with which the UK seeks to secure new trade deals, other interim arrangements could be found.

Investment
Caribbean countries’ existing double taxation agreements (DTAs) and bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with the UK also provide further opportunities to enhance investment promotion efforts in the UK, particularly targeting those UK companies which may be seeking to re-domicile post-Brexit. Commonwealth Caribbean territories like Barbados have many factors which would make it attractive to British companies as a domicile of choice for international business, including a common language (English), the common law legal system, political stability, a well-educated labour force and excellent professional services firms. Caribbean countries should continue to not only promote their attractiveness as a domicile of choice but continue to make reforms which will improve the ease of doing business.

There is also the opportunity for the private sector to forge closer links with businesses and private sector organisations in the UK and seek out new business opportunities. In this vein, the Caribbean diaspora living in the UK, while an important source of remittance inflows, is a still largely undertapped resource as an export market and source of foreign direct investment.
Most Commonwealth Caribbean territories do not have traditionally close relationships with most other EU countries. This is the opportunity to expand our level of trade and investment flows with continental Europe under the EPA, as well as continue to widen our DTA and BIT network with these countries. The consensus so far is that nearly 10 years after the signing of the EPA, most CARIFORUM countries have not realised the benefits expected. Simply put, market access does not guarantee market penetration. Sound market research will be needed to identify specific niches within the EU market which Caribbean goods and services providers could tap into. Business support organisations will continue to play an important role in assisting Caribbean exporters in their preparedness to enter the EU market.
By no means is this article meant to negate or downplay the serious implications that Brexit could have for the Commonwealth Caribbean countries nor does it aim to present an exhaustive list of the opportunities available. What it does argue is that although Brexit does pose challenges for the Caribbean region, we should use it as a catalyst and impetus not only strengthen the already strong bonds we have with the UK, but to expand and deepen our trade and diplomatic engagement with the remaining 27 EU countries with which we are yoked via the EPA.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

WTO launches its new World Trade Statistical Review

Alicia Nicholls

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) launched its new annual flagship statistical publication, the World Trade Statistical Review yesterday. According to the WTO’s press release, this new report replaces the WTO’s previous annual statistical publication, International Trade Statistics, which was published each October. The new report will be published online in July each year and a printed report will be available from September.

In his foreword to the report, Director-General of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo notes that “[t]he new structure of the publication allows for more comprehensive information about trade and trade policy developments to be provided, and in a more timely way.”

In addition to statistical compilations, this current report includes a discussion on trends in global trade over the past 10 years, discussions on merchandise trade and commercial services, global and regional trading patterns. An addition is the detailed analysis of developing countries’ participation in global trade, including Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Among its findings are that the value of both global merchandise and commercial services trade are nearly two-times greater in 2015 than in 2005 but declined in 2015 compared to 2014. Although developing country merchandise trade declined in 2015, their commercial services exports saw a robust increase. The report also mentions the increase in the overall stockpile of restrictive measures, including trade remedies, introduced by WTO members in 2015.

The WTO’s press release may be viewed here.

The full report may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

De-risking and its Foreign Trade Impact in the Caribbean

Alicia Nicholls

A few weeks ago I had the honour and pleasure of presenting on the Foreign Trade Impact of De-Risking at the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (ICAC) 34th Annual Conference in beautiful Belize as part of a panel discussion along with Dr. Trevor Brathwaite, Deputy Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and Mr. Filippo Alario, Chief Risk Officer of Belize Bank.

Alicia Nicholls ICAC 2016 Belize

Alicia Nicholls  at ICAC 2016 Photo compliments of R Mohammed

I wish to again express my gratitude to ICAC for the invitation and to all stakeholders and everyone who kindly provided me with information and assisted me in my research.

Some of the key points from the presentation were as follows:

  • De-risking is a business decision but with serious implications for Caribbean foreign trade.
  • As small open economies, Caribbean countries are highly dependent on foreign trade as evidenced by their high trade to GDP ratios which range between 70-130% of GDP, according to World Bank data.
  • Several Caribbean countries are among the most dependent in the world on remittance-inflows.
  • Bank de-risking threatens the region’s integration into the global trade and financial systems and has implications for economic growth, stability, employment.
  • Disruptions to remittance and FDI flows by de-risking also have poverty alleviation and sustainable development implications.
  • Cross-border payment for goods via wire transfer and remittance sending appear to be the most affected from a trade perspective.

Several persons  have written me requesting a copy of the full presentation. It is available below:

ICAC_Presentation_2016_ANicholls(1)

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

37th Regular Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference Concludes

Alicia Nicholls

Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held their 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government last week, July 4-6 in Georgetown, Guyana. The Heads of Government paid tribute to, and highlighted the contribution of the former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Mr. Patrick Manning who passed away two days before the conference. Mr. Manning, a strong proponent of the regional integration project, was praised, inter alia, for displaying “the finest qualities of regionalism” and for having an “unswerving commitment to building his country and the wider CARICOM”.

The major topics on the agenda included regional security, the CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME), facilitation of travel within the Community, correspondent banking, information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) and border disputes.

Below is a synopsis of some of the major decisions to which the HoGs agreed:

  • Agreement to host a Global Stakeholder Conference on the Impact of the Withdrawal of Correspondent Banking on the Region
  • Decision to reconstitute the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Cricket with the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as the Chairman
  • A mandate that the CARICOM Secretariat convene a meeting of Chief Immigration Officers, CARICOM Ambassadors, and other relevant officials by 30 September 2016, in order to address the challenges being experienced by Community nationals travelling throughout the Region.
  • Endorsement of the Action Plan for Statistics in the Caribbean  which seeks to strengthen national statistical systems, inter alia.

In regards to Brexit, the HOGs “agreed that CARICOM should continue to monitor developments as the exit process unfolded and underlined the importance of a common and structured approach that married the technical, political and diplomatic”.

The Heads of Government also met with specially invited guest, Her Excellency President Michelle Bachelet of Chile. The HoGS expressed satisfaction with the ongoing process of normalisation of US-Cuba relations but took the opportunity to renew their call for the US to lift the economic and trade embargo against Cuba.

The full communique may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

BREXIT fuelling British demand for alternative citizenship?

Alicia Nicholls

Nearly two weeks after the British people by a narrow margin voted in favour of the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the 28-member European Union (EU), it seems that the historic BREXIT vote may be having yet another impact.  Although the UK has not yet notified its intention to leave the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, various news reports have reported an increase in enquiries and applications by Britons for alternative EU citizenship.

Russian media house RT reports “an explosion” of Belgian citizenship requests from British expatriates living in that European country. Bear in mind that Brussels, as one of the “three capitals of the EU”, is home to a large expatriate community, including bureaucrats and consultants working in EU organs and EU-related organisations. According to Sveriges Radio (Radio Sweden), in the immediate days following BREXIT, over 100 Britons applied for Swedish citizenship compared to 440 applications last year.

There is a good reason why some Britons are seeking to ensure that they keep an EU passport neatly tucked away for a rainy day. Article 20(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) confers EU citizenship on every citizen of an EU country.  EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace citizenship of the member state. Currently, British nationals, as EU nationals, have the same rights to “move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States” per Article 20(2)(a) of the TFEU as the nationals of any other EU state.

There are possible economic reasons as well. The Office for National Statistics reports that in June 2016, the UK’s unemployment rate was just 5% and the number of unemployed fell during the first few months of the year. Despite this, unemployment could rise should the uncertainty from BREXIT lead to a slowdown in the UK’s growth and an exodus of businesses from the UK as some predict. An EU passport would give those Britons the right to look for work in the remaining EU countries should this occur.

While a contentious issue and believed to be one of the driving factors which influenced the “leave” vote, freedom of movement within the EU single market has benefited many young Britons who currently work and live in other EU member states, as well as British investors who have established businesses in other EU countries. For the reported 1.3 million UK nationals who currently live and work freely in other EU countries, this may change when the UK eventually leaves the EU should freedom of movement concessions not be part of the negotiated agreement. German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has been quoted directly in this article as suggesting that young Britons who live in Germany, France and Italy should be offered EU citizenship.

Dual Nationality

According to this report in the Irish Newspaper, The Journal, there has been an 80% increase in applications for Irish birth certificates since the referendum, as well as an increase in enquiries and applications for Irish passports at UK post offices. Under Irish law, a person with at least one parent who was an Irish citizen at the time of the person’s birth is entitled to Irish citizenship by descent. Those Britons who qualify for dual citizenship of another EU country, whether due to descent or marriage, are more likely to file applications for citizenship now that their rights to work and live in remaining EU countries are uncertain.

Citizenship by Investment

Current drivers of demand for citizenship under CBI programmes include the desire of high net worth individuals, particularly in emerging economies, for passports with greater mobility or to flee instability in their home countries, as well as nationality-based taxation and the reporting requirements the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in the case of Americans. However, it seems that there may be greater demand for EU citizenship by investment programmes like Malta’s and Cyprus’ in the wake of BREXIT. Golden Visas notes that “[their] website has seen a surge in enquiries of over 40%”. This is not unexpected as any person who is willing and able to make a qualifying investment (plus meeting the residency requirement) in one of these programmes is able to acquire an EU passport/nationality without much fuss.

Strength of UK passport

BREXIT may not only be fuelling demand by Britons for alternative EU citizenship but may impact on the strength of the UK passport. The president of one of the top global firms assisting clients in obtaining alternative citizenship has posited in this CNN Money article that BREXIT may reduce the power of the British passport which currently ranks among the top most powerful passports in the world.

As this very useful BBC article explains, there are five main models which could be the basis for the negotiated agreement between the EU and the UK. Only two of which I will briefly discuss as these involve freedom of movement. Like non-EU members Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, the UK could become a member of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and still be a part of the EU’s internal market via the European Economic Area (EEA) which provides for free movement of goods, services, people and capital. Alternatively, it could follow the model of Switzerland, also a member of the EFTA, but is not a part of the EEA. Its access to the EU single market is framed by several bilateral agreements. However, it is unclear which or whether any of these models will frame future EU-UK relations.

In a time of uncertainty like this where it is unknown what rights UK nationals will have in the EU once the UK and EU have negotiated the UK’s withdrawal, it seems that applying for second EU citizenship, whether through descent, naturalisation or by investment, is a source of comfort or an insurance policy for Britons should the worst happen .Nonetheless, for those many Britons who are currently living and earning a living in other EU countries, and do not qualify for alternative citizenship under any of these avenues, BREXIT brings much uncertainty and angst.

It is hoped that the negotiated outcome will permit British nationals to still enjoy some of the same rights to work and live in EU countries as they currently do. It should be noted though that the remaining 27 EU countries are unlikely not to demand reciprocity on the part of the UK in regards to any such freedom of movement concessions, which is quite ironic given that immigration concerns were part of the reason many Britons voted to leave the EU in the first place!

Turning to the Caribbean, it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this development may have on the citizenship by investment programmes being offered by some Caribbean countries.  Will BREXIT lead to greater demand for EU based programmes like Malta’s and Cyprus at the expense of Caribbean programmes which (due to visa waivers) only give access to the Schengen area but not the right to live and work in the EU? Very little data is available on these programmes and their client bases but given that it would appear from reports that wealthy Chinese, Russians and Middle Easterners are among the main investors in Caribbean CBI programmes, it is unlikely that they will receive any major fallout from BREXIT. However, only time will tell. Suffice it to say, these are interesting times.

 Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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