Category Archives: Caribbean

Post-Brexit UK-Caribbean Trading Relations: What are the options?

Alicia Nicholls

With the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May due to formally begin the Brexit process by making the Article 50 notification this Wednesday (March 29), it is worth considering what are the possible options for future Caribbean trading relations with post-Brexit “Global Britain”. Moreover, should one of the options be participation in a Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement (FTA)?

UK-CARICOM Trading Relations

The UK and the Commonwealth Caribbean have a shared and close relationship which goes beyond historical, cultural and diplomatic ties. While Commonwealth Caribbean countries’ trade with the United States dwarfs trade with the UK, the latter remains the region’s largest trading partner within Europe. Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States, as part of the CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic), enjoy preferential access to the UK market under the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed in October 2008.

As the EU agreements to which the UK is currently part will cease to apply to the UK once it has completely withdrawn from the EU, here is what CARICOM/CARIFORUM will losing preferential access to (a) the world’s fifth largest economy (or sixth largest according to some reports), (b) a market of over 64 million people which includes a Caribbean diaspora population whose potential demand for Caribbean goods and services and as a source of diaspora investment still remains largely under-exploited, and (c) a trading partner with a shared language, shared culture and shared values and a common law legal system which brings a level of assurance and certainty for cross-border commerce.

Merchandise trade aside, the UK is an important source of tourist arrivals for many Caribbean countries, while in Barbados, for example, British high net worth individuals (HNWIs) are the largest buyers of luxury real estate on the island, making the UK the largest source of real estate foreign direct investment (FDI) into the island.

Whilst the UK cannot formally commence negotiations with third States until it has left the EU, the May Government has reportedly already begun preliminary informal trade talks with some States. Indeed, several countries around the world, including Commonwealth states like Australia, Canada and India have lined up in hopes of being among the first negotiate post-Brexit trade agreements with the UK. Here in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has also signalled its interest in a post-Brexit UK-DR FTA as the UK is apparently the Dominican Republic’s fastest growing market for Dominican exports according to the statement made by the DR’s Ambassador to the UK.

To this point, it is heartening to note that Prime Minister May has bucked the protectionist trend and intends to expand the UK’s trading relations around the world under her “Global Britain” banner. Indeed, Mrs. May argued that one of the compelling reasons for Brexit was so Britain would be free to expand its trade with the rest of the world on its own terms. The door is clearly open to the region for dialogue.

Possible Options for post-Brexit UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM Relations

As I see it, the possible options for post-Brexit UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM trading relations are as follows:

  1. Interim Arrangement which preserves EPA-level concessions before an FTA can be negotiated
  2. Negotiation of a UK-CARICOM or UK-CARIFORUM FTA
  3. Commonwealth FTA
  4. Most Favoured Nation (trading under WTO rules)

The Commonwealth Advantage?

This discussion is even more interesting in light of what is clearly a Commonwealth pivot by the UK government as it seeks to map its future trade policy and relations. Most CARICOM countries are member states of the 52-member Commonwealth of Nations, an intergovernmental organisation which consists primarily of former British colonies and current dependencies spanning Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific.

The Commonwealth is not a trade bloc. However, despite the absence of a Commonwealth FTA, intra-Commonwealth trade and investment flows are substantial and growing. According to a 2015 report released by the Commonwealth, not only is “trade between Commonwealth members on average 20 per cent higher and trade costs are 19 per cent lower compared with in trading between other partners”, but intra-Commonwealth trade is expected to reach 1 trillion by 2020. The Secretariat’s International Trade Policy section also publishes very timely  and insightful research on trade matters. A good example is this brief which was part of the Meeting documents.

However, despite this, Commonwealth Trade Ministers have not met frequently. This is why the Inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting two weeks ago was such a momentous event.  From all reports the meeting was not only well-attended but the ministers discussed prospects for deepening intra-Commonwealth trade and investment ties using the “Commonwealth Advantage”. Inter alia, Ministers directed the Secretariat to “develop pragmatic and practical options to increase Commonwealth trade and investment”, to regularise and institutionalise Trade Minister meetings, and to cooperate on the implementation of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

The prospect of a Commonwealth-wide FTA has been floated informally, although it does not yet appear to be a firm policy proposal. The arguments for a Commonwealth FTA include a ready market of over 2.4 billion people yoked by a shared language and history, common principles and values, respect for the rule of law, the common law legal system, all of which form part of the “Commonwealth Advantage”. Additionally, it is argued by proponents of a pan-Commonwealth FTA that the potential for even greater intra-Commonwealth trade and investment should be harnessed as a buttress against rising protectionism and slowing global trade which are potentially harmful for Commonwealth developing States.

To be sure, the Commonwealth brings important value for the Caribbean. It has, for example, developed a strong small states agenda, which is not surprising given that thirty-one of its member States are small States. As an illustration, the Commonwealth launched the Commonwealth Small States Trade Finance Facility in 2015. Moreover, the fact that the current Secretary-General, Dame Patricia Scotland QC, is a daughter of the soil is also an advantage for the region.

There is also, of course, merit to fomenting closer commercial and political ties with fellow Commonwealth countries as some of the more developed Commonwealth countries are part of influential fora like the Group of 20 (G20), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) where Commonwealth Caribbean countries are not represented.  This is doubly important in light of the on-going slowdown in global trade flows, an apparent retreat from multilateralism and rising protectionism. Moreover, Commonwealth Caribbean countries have been seeking to diversify their trading partners, including source markets for tourism, foreign investment and international business and deepening ties with the rest of the Commonwealth could be useful.

Nonetheless, while I have not done any econometric analysis on what would be the possible economic and welfare benefits of any Commonwealth FTA for CARICOM/CARIFORUM, given the length of time it may take to negotiate a Commonwealth FTA, the varying levels of development, the differences in economic profile, and the diverse offensive and defensive interests of the various Commonwealth Member States which will need to be managed, the negotiation of a Commonwealth-wide FTA will not be an easy task. Therefore, I submit that the Caribbean region’s interests will, at least in the short to medium term, be better served by either negotiating an interim arrangement  with the UK which preserves EPA-level concessions until an FTA can be negotiated or negotiating an FTA with the UK straight off the bat.

So what should a possible UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM take into account?

CARICOM countries have limited experience in negotiating FTAs with developed countries. So far the EPA is the region’s only completed FTA with a developed partner, as the Canada-CARICOM negotiations are currently in abeyance. Perhaps, fortuitously, the UK has even less experience with negotiating trade agreements, as trade negotiations have hitherto been handled exclusively by the European Commission, pursuant to the EU’s common commercial policy. So both parties, despite the power asymmetry, will be on a learning curve.

Commitments made under any prospective UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM free trade agreement should take into account the sustainable development and economic growth needs and interests of both parties in a mutually beneficial way, while also taking into account differential levels of development among CARICOM/CARIFORUM countries.

CARICOM/CARIFORUM countries will also want at least the same level of concessions for their service suppliers, particularly in Mode 4 (Presence of Natural Persons) which has been the mode of supply which is the least liberalised. Additionally, as capital-importing States, CARICOM/CARIFORUM countries will likely wish to negotiate an investment chapter which protects, promotes and liberalises investment between CARICOM/CARIFORUM and the UK for the mutual development of both parties.

Of course, stakeholder consultations with not just the private sector but also civil society and citizens at large should continue to inform the region’s negotiating positions, including whether there is actually the need for an UK-CARICOM FTA and what are the region’s offensive and defensive interests.

FTA negotiations can take several years. The EPA negotiations, for instance, had been launched in April 2004 and the Agreement was not signed until October 2008. Therefore, unless a WTO-compatible interim arrangement could be negotiated whereby the UK agrees to continue EPA-type concessions to the region until a UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM FTA is negotiated, it is possible that UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM trade relations may revert to MFN conditions. Even so, while the UK is also a WTO member in its own right, its schedules are part of the EU’s which means the country will have to work out its own tariff schedules under the WTO post-Brexit. Additionally, WTO MFN conditions will not afford CARIFORUM countries the level of market access, especially for their service suppliers in the UK market, that they currently enjoy under the EPA.

Although the argument is often rightly made that the Caribbean region will be at the low rung of the negotiation priority ladder, I believe that the region cannot sit idly by as the clock begins ticking come Wednesday. While other major countries have begun to erect barriers, the May Government’s “Global Britain” outlook is a welcomed open door for the region. We should at least signal to the May government our interest in beginning talks on cementing a mutually beneficial UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM trading arrangement post-Brexit, and take steps to do the ground work for such an eventuality.

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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CARICOM 28th Inter-Sessional Meeting; Economic Development and International Relations centre-stage

Source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

On February 16-17, Heads of Government of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) converged in Georgetown, Guyana for the Twenty-Eighth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government.

The meeting, which was chaired by President of Guyana, His Excellency Brigadier (Retd’), David Granger, addressed a wide array of issues currently confronted by the Community. However, economic development and International Relations were among the three broad identified by CARICOM Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, in his opening remarks to the conference. The third was crime and security.

Ambassador LaRocque noted that the issue of economic development, including economic growth, was foremost, observing that the majority of CARICOM member States have been struggling with low growth, high debt and fiscal pressure. Further to this point, it should be noted that just last week the Caribbean Development Bank stated that although they project the Region to experience economic growth of approximately 1.7 percent in 2017, they also suggested that “this will not be enough to stimulate employment, particularly among youth, and reduce high regional debt levels”, and that a long term plan was needed to “facilitate the Region’s participation in global supply chains and drive sustainable economic growth”.

Ambassador LaRocque highlighted the importance of collective action to confront the problems facing the region, and reiterated the fact that the CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME) had been identified by member States as the “best vehicle” to promote our overall economic growth and development.

Indeed, a  major discussion point in the meeting was the status of the CSME. According to the official communique from the meeting, the Heads of Government received a review of the status of the CSME and noted the “the significant progress” in its implementation. They also agreed on priority areas to be addressed, including the challenges of payments for goods and services traded within the Region and the completion of the protocol on procedures relating to the facilitation of travel. They also supported the need for continually reviewing the impact of the CSME in both achieving the objectives of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and on the lives of CARICOM peoples.

According to the communique, the Heads of Government also considered some impediments to furthering the CSME. Noting the importance of transportation to the movement of Community nationals, they called for a focused discussion on transportation in the context of the integration movement and also urged greater collaboration among the regional airlines.

Indeed, transportation issues also featured in the Heads of Government’s discussion on tourism,  which they reiterated was a vital sector for CARICOM member States. Inter alia, the Heads of Government called for “an urgent meeting of the Council for Trade and Development (COTED)-Transportation to address air transport issues in particular, including those related to the tourism sector”.

De-risking strategies of global banks, which include the restriction or withdrawal of correspondent banking services to banks in the region, was again an important agenda item. The Heads of Government endorsed the need for a continued regional approach to the challenge, including continued concerted action and advocacy. To this end, they considered the Strategy and Action Plan submitted by the Committee of Central Bank Governors and directed the Committee of Ministers of Finance with responsibility for Correspondent Financing to assume oversight of the roll-out.

Turning to the issue of international relations, the recently concluded negotiations by the CARICOM-Cuba Joint Commission on the Second Protocol to the Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement was welcomed by the Heads of Government, who agreed that it would strengthen the economic relations and cooperation between CARICOM and Cuba.

US-CARICOM relations was another important agenda item. The Heads of Government welcomed the US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016. Emphasising the importance of the long-standing relationship between CARICOM and the US, the Heads of Government expressed their desire to continuing the “fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship with the new US Administration”.

CARICOM is part of the Caribbean sub-grouping of the Africa, Caribbean & Pacific (ACP) group. In light of the impending expiration of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020, Heads of Government noted the Cotonou Agreement’s importance as “a unique and valued instrument from which CARICOM has benefited with regard to trade, development co-operation and political dialogue with Europe” and suggested that the Agreement be renewed. Heads of Government also expressed their desire for the ACP to be strengthened, emphasising that membership in the ACP Group “remains a valuable construct which has facilitated relations with Africa and the Pacific”.

Besides these issues, the Heads of Government also discussed the on-going border disputes between Belize and Guatemala, and Guyana and Venezuela, relations with the Dominican Republic, an update on preparations for CARIFESTA, inter alia.

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.

 

Trump Presidency: What priorities for US-Caribbean Economic Engagement?

Alicia Nicholls

The United States’ position as most Caribbean countries’ largest economic partner and an important foreign policy ally means that constructive engagement with the incoming Trump administration is not just a choice but an imperative. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and individual Caribbean governments have all expressed congratulatory messages, emphasizing their willingness to work with Mr. Trump and continuing the harmonious US-Caribbean relationship.

But in contrast to the idealism attending then Senator Barack Obama’s “Yes we can” message eight years ago, a spectre of profound uncertainty shrouds the President-elect not just because of his extreme rhetoric on trade and foreign policy, undergirded by his “Make America Great Again” and “America First” refrains, but also the lack of policy specificity.

In this article, I will outline what I believe are five key priorities which will likely frame US-Caribbean economic and foreign policy engagement for the foreseeable future:

  1. Correspondent Banking/De-Risking

A first order of business will be continuing the conversation that CARICOM governments and stakeholders have started with US officials and regulators on the de-risking activities of US-based international banks, including the withdrawal and restriction of correspondent banking relationships. These relationships are Caribbean’ lifeline to the global financial and trading system, critical for the trade, investment and remittance flows which buoy our small open economies and sustain households.

US foreign policy orientation towards the Caribbean has constantly recognized that an economically secure “third border” complements US’ strategic security interests. Any threat therefore to the region’s economic and financial inclusion is something which should be of mutual concern. Unfortunately, there appears to be limited progress on the correspondent banking issue.

While de-risking is a cost-benefit decision for banks, it is also partly fuelled no doubt by ambiguous regulations and the Caribbean’s undeserved reputation in some quarters as a high risk place for doing business. To their credit, the US Treasury and Federal Banking Agencies released a Joint Factsheet on Foreign Correspondent Banking. Additionally, the US Treasury has reiterated that the de-risking issue is a “key priority”.

However, actions by US authorities which unfairly label Caribbean countries as “tax havens” contribute to the perception that Caribbean jurisdictions and banks are higher risk. In 2015 the state legislature of Montana, and the District of Columbia, had included several Caribbean countries among their proposed lists of tax havens. This is despite Caribbean countries’ having taken steps to ensure their compliance with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and our clean bill of health by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).Continued engagement with US states and federal authorities on this issue is a must.

  1. International Financial Services & FATCA

Although President-elect Trump has promised to lower the US federal corporation tax rate from 35% to 15% and  provide a deemed repatriation of corporate profits held offshore at a one-time tax rate of 10%, his orientation towards international financial centres (IFCs) in general is not well-known.

The Obama administration has not been friendly to Caribbean IFCs, and that is putting it mildly. On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s background as a businessman may make him more appreciative of the role IFCs play in making US businesses more efficient and profitable, which in turn facilitates their contribution to US economic and job growth. Moreover, conventional wisdom holds that Republican governments are usually friendlier to the Caribbean than are Democratic governments, and there is good anecdotal evidence to support this.

Additionally, continued engagement with US authorities will be necessary to iron out any implementation and reporting issues under FATCA.

  1. Caribbean Basin Initiative & Other Market Access Issues 

Manufacturers in most Caribbean countries enjoy non-reciprocal duty-free access to the US market for most goods under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), an initiative of the Reagan administration in the 1980s which had both economic, ideological and geopolitical imperatives. The CBI is unilateral which means that the benefits can be unilaterally revoked and the criteria for eligibility changed at any time. However, CBI is generally believed to be beneficial to US manufacturing and jobs and Caribbean has a large trade deficit with the US, which should keep CBI off the President-elect’s immediate radar.

One sticking point in US-Caribbean trade relations is the cover over subsidies which the US Federal government pays to the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands out of excise taxes it collects from imported rums, which has made Caribbean rums less competitive in the US market. Turning to merchandise trade in general, non-tariff barriers such as sanitary and phyto-sanitary and labelling requirements have also been a constraint on market access.

Caribbean workers benefit from temporary employment under the US Farm Workers and Hospitality Workers programmes. However, outside of this, Caribbean service providers have no preferential access to the US market. The CBI does not cover services trade. Caribbean business persons seeking to supply a service in the US instead rely on non-immigrant visas. Mr. Trump has promised to tighten the US’ border and control policy. It is not certain whether this will be extended to non-immigrant visas as well.

  1. Immigration & Workers’ Programmes

Mr. Trump made tightening immigration one of the cornerstones of his campaign platform. While his ire was directed towards Mexican and Muslim immigrants, Caribbean immigrants will be collateral damage. For instance, undocumented immigrants who had come to the US as children and had identified themselves in good faith when applying for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme might have unwittingly made themselves prime targets for deportation if Mr. Trump goes through with his plans.

Most Caribbean immigrants are law-abiding citizens who are making sterling contributions to the American society. However, another pertinent concern is Mr. Trump’s vow to accelerate the deportation of those immigrants convicted of crimes to their country of birth, which has been a sticking point in US-Caribbean relations for some time. Caribbean governments have criticised the deportation of persons who were born in the Caribbean but socialised in the US with only superficial Caribbean roots. They have also linked these deportations to increased violent crime in the Region.

Mr. Trump has also spoken earlier about reforming legal immigration. This will make it difficult for Caribbean persons to emigrate legally to the US. This also has implications for remittances, a lifeline for many poorer Caribbean households.

5. Mobilising Climate Finance

Climate finance is needed to assist countries, particularly poorer and most vulnerable countries, in their climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. It is something which the Small Island Developing States in particular were adamant upon during the negotiations leading up to the eventual signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Developed countries committed themselves to mobilising 100 billion USD in climate finance from a variety of sources each year by 2020, a pledge which dates back to Copenhagen in 2009 and one which President Obama has supported. Caribbean countries have also received climate change aid under USAID programmes.

Mr. Trump, however,  is not a believer in anthropogenic (man-made) climate change, and has vowed to “cancel the Paris Agreement”, to ramp up fossil fuel production and to defund the clean energy initiatives. Further US contribution to the Green Climate Fund, which was established to assist developing countries like those in the Caribbean, is now in question.

Conclusion

Mr. Trump’s election has evoked an aura of uncertainty over what will be the future paradigm of US-Caribbean relations. Although the Caribbean had not featured in the policy discussions during the campaign, Mr. Trump’s populist rhetoric illustrated a marked departure from the tenets of current US economic and foreign policy. He has, however, been light on specifics. If implemented, his proposals will be a strong departure from current US policy, particularly in the area of climate change which I addressed in a previous post.

Nonetheless there are two sparks of hope. Firstly, President-elect Trump is a businessman at heart and should be more attuned to a ‘dollars and cents’ argument. Secondly, Mr. Trump’s malleability in regards to his positions evinces some pragmatism on his part. It is worth remembering that for much of his public life, Mr. Trump has espoused liberal views until becoming an independent and then a Republican in later years. He has also softened some of his most ardent positions during the campaign and since winning the election, and has also been rumored to be considering some of his former Republican opponents for Cabinet positions.

These two factors suggest that there may be more scope for discussion with a Trump administration than may initially be perceived. What will the emerging Trump Doctrine mean for the Caribbean? And whether we will see a “hard” or “soft” Trump, to borrow the clever nomenclature employed by former WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy, no one knows. A clearer sense of Mr. Trump’s true policy orientation will be more discernible when more of his Cabinet picks are revealed and his proposals are elaborated upon.

While these issues I have highlighted will not be policy priorities for the Trump Administration, they are issues of importance to Caribbean countries. As such, Caribbean governments and other stakeholders must be pro-active in their engagement with the Trump administration from day-one when he assumes office in January 2017.

Alicia Nicholls 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.

What may a Trump presidency mean for future US-Caribbean relations?

Alicia Nicholls

In what for many pollsters and poll watchers was an astounding turn of events reminiscent of the June 23rd Brexit vote decision in the United Kingdom (UK), the American people have chosen the Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Donald J. Trump, to become their 45th president. Mr. Trump, a billionaire real estate developer who has never held elective office, beat veteran campaigner and Washington establishment favourite, former Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton despite late polls predicting a slim victory for Mrs. Clinton.  In addition to winning the White House, the Republicans have also retained control of both houses of Congress.

The merits and demerits of a Trump presidency will dominate news headlines for the next few days and perhaps years. However, we in the Caribbean must now pivot from our fascination with what was a surprising conclusion to the US Presidential Election campaign of 2016, to consider what will be the possible implications of a Trump presidency for future US-Caribbean relations.

Many may wonder why we in the Caribbean, like other parts of the world, so keenly follow the US presidential elections. After all, unlike Mexico, Syria, Russia and Iran, Caribbean countries did not feature in any of the major foreign or economic policy discussions, and the region has lost much of its geostrategic importance to Washington since the end of the Cold War.

The reasons why the US elections matter to us are simple. Firstly, the US is a major trading partner for many Caribbean countries, a provider of foreign aid and a foreign policy ally. Secondly, for several Caribbean countries, the US is also the largest source market for tourist arrivals.  Thirdly, the US is home to the largest population of persons of Caribbean descent living outside of the Caribbean.  As such, any change in US foreign, economic and commercial policy will have implications for the small open economies of the Caribbean region.

Trade Policy

A central plank of now President-elect Trump’s campaign to “Make America Great Again” is to “negotiate fair trade deals that create American jobs, increase American wages, and reduce America’s trade deficit”.It is expected that there will be dramatic changes to US trade policy under a Trump Presidency towards a more zero-sum, protectionist approach. This will have implications for US-Caribbean trade relations, which have not always been smooth.

Outside of the Dominican Republic which is a party to the US-Central America and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), Caribbean States do not have a free trade agreement with the US. Most Anglophone Caribbean countries, however, benefit from unilateral access to the US market for most goods under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a legacy from the Reagan era. The preferences extended under CBERA are non-reciprocal; Caribbean countries do not have to confer reciprocal access to US originating goods. They are also unilateral which means preferences can also be unilaterally revoked by the US. Some Caribbean countries also benefit from the United States’ Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), another unilateral, non-reciprocal regime.

It is unclear what would be the future of these unilateral non-reciprocal preference schemes under a Trump presidency. Perhaps one saving grace is that these programmes are generally seen to be a benefit to US manufacturing and jobs, and the region has a trade deficit with the US. According to the Report to Congress released in December 2015, “[t]he value of U.S. exports to CBERA beneficiary countries grew 2.5 percent in 2014, exceeding the growth rate for total global U.S. exports, which grew 2.1 percent”.

On a more sober note, US-Caribbean trade relations have encountered many bumps over the years, including the famous bananas wars in which the US and Latin American countries successfully challenged the European Union’s preference regime for bananas from African, Caribbean & Pacific (ACP) countries in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

More recently, Antigua & Barbuda challenged the US’ restriction on the cross-border supply of online gambling services from Antigua & Barbuda in the World Trade Organisation’s dispute settlement mechanism. After the US lost its appeal and failed to comply with the Appellate Body’s ruling, Antigua & Barbuda was authorised to retaliate through the suspension of concessions and obligations to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights. However, to this day Antigua & Barbuda has not received any compensation from the US following the rulings.

There has been little progress on either the US-Antigua gambling dispute or on the rum dispute which Caribbean states have been hesitant to take to the WTO. It remains to be seen whether any progress will be made under a President Trump whose only stated concern in regards to trade relations is for “American jobs, wages and trade deficit” and who has hinted at withdrawing the US from the WTO.

Immigration and Race Relations

Much of Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has been against Mexicans, as exemplified by his promise to build a wall along the US’ border with Mexico. The Caribbean diaspora in the US, however, may be impacted by his immigration policies as well. In an interesting article on Caribbean migration to the US, Zong and Batalova noted that “the United States is the top destination for Caribbean emigrants, accounting for more than 60 percent of the 6 million Caribbean emigrants worldwide”.

Immigration has for quite some time been a touchy subject in US-Caribbean relations, mainly in regards to the mass deportation of those Caribbean nationals who have committed crimes in the US. The main argument advanced by Caribbean governments is that many of the deportees were socialised in the US and are sent back to the Caribbean after serving time in US prisons as hardened criminals. They also argue that these deportees have little to no cultural or familial ties to the Caribbean which makes their integration into Caribbean society difficult. Such deportations have been blamed by regional politicians for the increase in criminality in the region.

Mr. Trump’s 10-point plan for immigration, includes not only increasing the deportation of criminals, but establishing immigration controls, ensuring that open jobs are offered to American workers first, banning immigration from certain countries, ending sanctuary cities and reforming legal migration. Not only will those living illegally be affected, but there may be implications for that vast majority of Caribbean immigrants living legally and making a solid contribution to US society. He has spoken of a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the US”. What does that mean for the Muslim minority in some Caribbean countries who may wish to visit or migrate to the US?

A less discussed issue is that of Trump’s possible impact on race relations in the United States. Most Caribbean immigrants are either mainly black or Latino so this dovetails with the immigration issue. Mr. Trump has had a checkered past on race issues, including, inter alia, calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”, supporting the Birther Movement which sought to discredit America’s first African-American president (President Obama) as a foreigner, and being prosecuted by the US Justice Department along with his father for refusing to rent to black tenants during his early years. To what extent can a Trump presidency, whose open endorsement by the KKK and other white nationalists raised concerns, begin to mend race relations? For instance, what will be his future policies on stop and frisk and on police brutality against minorities, particularly against African-American males?

Climate Change

Climate change is an existential issue for the world, and particularly for small island developing states in the Caribbean, which, despite their negligible contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, have been the most vulnerable to the adverse and deadly effects of climate change.  As I indicated in a previous article on this subject, the election of Mr. Trump, a climate change sceptic, will be weighing on the minds of officials at the climate talks in Marrakech, Morroco over the next weeks.

Mr. Trump, has famously called climate change a “Chinese hoax” and has gone as far as threatened to cancel the Paris Agreement. Although it would take about four years before the US can formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement, in the intervening time President Trump can still undo the US’ progress on climate change action by overturning the executive actions President Obama has implemented to fight climate change, cancelling funding for clean energy initiatives, and reducing and eliminating aid to developing countries for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

It also means that there may be little to no US support for global climate change action, a frightening prospect if the international community is to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

Foreign Aid

According to a 2016 report “US Foreign Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean: Recent Trends and FY2016 Appropriations”, since 1946, the LAC region has received more than $160 billion of assistance (in constant 2013 dollars. This aid has included assistance in fighting crime and drugs trafficking, as well as for climate change mitigation and adaptation.  However, foreign aid saw spending cuts under President Obama as the US sought to rein in its budget deficits.

Mr. Trump has not said much in his campaign plans on his views towards foreign aid, though one can conclude that his more inward looking policies would suggest that he will probably be in favour of less aid for the region if this is not in sync with his wider foreign policy goals. It will be left to be seen the extent to which the LAC region will continue to receive aid under a Trump presidency and what would be the aid priorities.

Withdrawal of Correspondent Banking

Indigenous banks in the Caribbean have been seeing the restriction or termination of correspondent banking relationships by international banks, many of which are US-based. Caribbean governments have been engaging in high-level advocacy and have targeted relevant US departments. There has so far been limited success. To what extent will Mr. Trump and his future Secretary State and Treasury Secretary be concerned with the problems of Caribbean economies which face exclusion from the global trade and financial system if this issue goes on unabated?

Cuba-US Relations

President Obama’s presidency saw a rapprochement in US-Cuba relations. Since the early 1960s, successive US governments have imposed an illegal economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba which is not only contrary to international law but has hindered the country’s economy development.  In December 2014 US Mr. Obama outlined a new direction to normalise Cuba-US relations. Efforts at normalisation since 2014 have included, inter alia, the removal of Cuba from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List in May 2015, the re-opening of embassies in July 2015 and the progressive relaxation of some sanctions.

The prospect of normalisation of US-Cuba relations appears bleak now as President-elect Trump has consistently supported the embargo against Cuba. However, it remains to be seen whether he will reverse some of the executive actions President Obama has made and whether he will impose additional sanctions.

So what does this mean for future US-Caribbean relations?

The American people have made their choice and while it may not have been an internationally popular one, what is done is done. What Caribbean leaders need to consider going forward is what will be the priorities for them in regards to their relations with the Trump White House. And how will they create constructive dialogue and meaningful action on issues such as the on-going gambling and rum trade disputes, security, deportations, correspondent banking and climate change?

It is no secret that since the end of the Cold War the Caribbean has lost much of its geostrategic significance to Washington. However, the geographic proximity of the Caribbean as the US’ “backyard” means that US-Caribbean cooperation remains crucial to US national security on issues of mutual interest such as drug enforcement, transnational organised crime, money laundering and terrorist financing. In June 2016  H.R. 4939 – United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016, a bi-partisan bill sponsored by New York Representative Eliot Engel (Democrat) passed without objection in the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The objective of the law is “to increase engagement with the governments of the Caribbean region, the Caribbean diaspora community in the United States, and the private sector and civil society in both the United States and the Caribbean, and for other purposes”. What will be the future of this initiative?

What is clear is that there needs to be constructive dialogue and re-engagement with the US. How successful will this be under a Trump presidency is anyone’s guess. His campaign rhetoric appears to foreshadow a future US foreign policy that will be a lot more isolationist, inward-looking and protectionist than seen in recent times. With a Republican majority in Congress, Mr. Trump will likely have unfettered power to push through his agenda, however good or bad.

On the flip side, it is entirely possible that Mr. Trump may soften his stance on some of his most contentious issues. For instance, in his victory speech he adopted a more conciliatory tone both towards to his opponent Mrs. Clinton and towards the international community, stating “All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.” Another thing is that Mr. Trump’s policy proposals have been generally vague on specifics. There are many unknowns at this stage. We also have no idea as yet, besides speculation, on who will be the members of his cabinet, including key posts such as Secretary of State and Treasury Secretary. It is also unclear where Mr. Trump stands on some issues with importance to the region, including on offshore financial centres and the withdrawal of correspondent banking.

While President-elect Trump’s campaign proposals and rhetoric give us much food for thought, there remains much uncertainty about what a Trump presidency may actually portend for the region. What is certain, however, is that there will likely be a new tone set for US-Caribbean relations going forward. Caribbean leaders will need to be pro-active, united and strategic as they seek to engage constructively with what will be at least a four-year Trump administration when Mr. Trump assumes office in January 2017.

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.

Citizenship by Investment receipts help power economic recovery in Eastern Caribbean Countries

Alicia Nicholls

Receipts from citizenship by investment programmes (CIPs) continue to be a major contributor to economic recovery in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). This is according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest Staff Report on the ECCU released this month (October 2016).

CIPs have been an important development tool in Eastern Caribbean countries. In January 2016 St. Lucia became the 5th ECCU country to institute a CIP. The other ECCU countries which run CIPs are St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada, Dominica and Antigua & Barbuda.

According to the IMF, most ECCU governments continued to rely on CIP inflows to fund their budgets in 2015. CIP inflows were highest in St. Kitts and Nevis, which has the world’s longest running CIP. In that country, CIP revenues to the public sector were at 17.4 percent of GDP. The report also noted that inflows reached 7.9 percent of GDP in 2015 in Antigua and Barbuda and 3.6 percent in Dominica.

However, the IMF did mention several potential downsides to the sustainability of the CIPs, including the increased competition ECCU CIPs face not only amongst themselves but from other CIPs and residency programmes worldwide, including Malta’s. Other risks the IMF mentioned include rising global migration pressures, elevated security concerns and geopolitical tensions which may trigger adverse actions by the international community, including suspension of visa-free travel for citizens of CIP countries.

In order to improve the sustainability of the programmes, the IMF also encouraged authorities to “develop a strong, regionally accepted set of principles and guidelines for citizenship by investment programs in order to enhance their sustainability” The staff suggested that the authorities share due diligence information on clients to prevent citizenship shopping in cases where an application is rejected by one jurisdiction.

The IMF cited the need to improve the management of the programmes and cautioned against over-reliance on CPI revenues for funding recurrent budgetary operations. Mindful of the threat posed by natural disasters, the IMF posited that CIP countries save the bulk of the CPI revenues in a well-managed fund to address natural disaster shocks and to fund disaster resilient infrastructure.

Arguing that a comprehensive governance framework is crucial to mitigating increased risks facing CIPs, IMF also recommended more transparency by making data on the programmes public and subject to financial audits.

The full IMF Staff Report for the ECCU 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.

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.

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