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CARICOM Protocol on Contingent Rights: An important Step to CSME Consolidation

Alicia Nicholls

The Government of Barbados has recently announced a Bill entitled the Caribbean Community (Amendment) Bill 2019, which, when passed, would amend the principal Act to give effect to the CARICOM Protocol on Contingent Rights, making it part of Barbadian law.

Barbados, along with six other CARICOM Member States, had signed the Protocol during the 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government in Montego Bay Jamaica in July 2018.

Following the recently held 30th Inter-sessional Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government in St. Kitts & Nevis, it has been reported that all CSME participating Member States have now signed the Protocol. But what is the Protocol about and why is it necessary for the consolidation of the CSME?

What is the Protocol on Contingent Rights and Why is it Necessary?

The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas confers a number of rights to Community Nationals, including the right of establishment, the right to provide services, the free movement of capital and of skilled Community Nationals to seek employment in other CSME participating Member States. However, it was recognised by Member States that despite these rights (called ‘primary rights’) being conferred, additional enforceable rights (or ‘contingent rights’) were needed to ensure that Community Nationals could enjoy them effectively and without frustration.

For example, there was concern by CARICOM nationals who were working in other jurisdictions about their inability to access social services on the same basis of nationals of the host country, the inability of their spouses to also legally seek employment, and for their children to access primary education on the same basis as the children of nationals of the host country. These barriers frustrate the exercise of the rights conferred in the Revised Treaty.

The Protocol, which was a long time in the making, confers certain enforceable social and economic rights to Community Nationals and their immediate families who make use of the right of establishment, the right to provide services, the right to move capital and the free movement of skilled labour under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. As such, the Protocol is not only a starting point for addressing some of the issues currently faced by Community Nationals seeking to exercise these rights effectively, but is, therefore, an important step towards the consolidation of the CSME.

Rights guaranteed under the Protocol

The framers of the Protocol define ‘contingent rights’ as “rights to which a national and his or her spouse and immediate dependents are entitled, contingent on the exercise by the principal beneficiary of the right of establishment, provision of services, movement of capital or free movement of skills”.

Subject to certain exceptions, the contingent rights currently guaranteed under the Protocol are:

  • the right of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country, his or her spouse or their dependants to transfer capital into and from a host country subject to Article 43 of the Treaty, which speaks to restrictions to safeguard balance of payments;
  • the right of a spouse or dependants of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to leave and re-enter a host country;
  • the right of the spouse of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to work in a host country without a work permit;
  • the right of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country and his or her spouse to access on a non-discriminatory basis lands, buildings and other property for residential or business purposes reasonably connected with the exercise of the rights of the principal beneficiary;
  • the right of dependent children of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to access primary education on a nondiscriminatory basis, where and to the extent provided by the Government of the host country;
  • the right of a principal beneficiary resident in a host country to import into the host country free of duties within six months of being granted a stay, subject to the principal beneficiary having already satisfied the duty regime in another Member State, tools of trade that are (i) reasonably connected with the exercise of any of the
    primary rights of the principal beneficiary; (ii) in the possession of the principal beneficiary in the exercise of any of those primary rights; and (iii) located in a Member State.

These are a minimum standard and as such, Article IV of the Protocol specifically notes that Member States are not precluded from granting greater rights once not done in a discriminatory manner in contravention of the non-discrimination principle (Article 7) and more specifically, the Most Favoured Nation principle (Article 8) of the Revised Treaty respectively. It should be noted that consistent with a phased approach, the Barbados Bill adopts the Protocol as is and does not grant any greater rights.

Who may qualify for these rights?

Principal Beneficiary

The Protocol defines a ‘principal beneficiary’ as a national of a Member State exercising one or more primary rights, that is, rights pursuant to the Treaty in relation to the operation of the CSME and described in Articles 32, 34, 36, 40 and 46 of the Treaty, which deal with right of establishment, right to provide services, the movement of capital and free movement of skilled community nationals respectively.

For example, under the free movement of skilled nationals regime, ten categories of wage earners may move and work freely within CSME participating Member States without having to seek a work permit in the jurisdiction in which they seek to work and once they hold a CARICOM Skills Certificate (formally known as the CARICOM Certificate of Recognition of Skills Qualification).

The five original categories under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas were: University graduates, artistes, musicians, sportspersons, media workers. These were later expanded to include five additional categories: nurses, teachers, artisans with a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ), holders of Associates Degrees or comparable qualification and Household Domestics with a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) or equivalent qualification. These eligible categories will soon include others, namely, agricultural workers, barbers, security guards and beauticians.

All other Community nationals need to apply for work permits in order to seek employment in another CSME jurisdiction.

Spouses and Dependents

With a nod to inclusiveness, the framers of the Protocol adopted a broad definition of ‘dependent’ to include any unmarried child of a principal beneficiary or of his or her spouse provided that such child is under the age of 18 years, under the age of 25 years attending school or university full time or over the age of 18 years who is disabled and dependent on the principal beneficiary. However, the definition of ‘spouse’ is still restricted to heterosexual relationships either via marriage, or via common-law unions to the extent that such unions are recognized by the laws of the host country.

Built-in agenda and monitoring

The issue of contingent rights has been a sensitive one as not all CARICOM Member States offer their own nationals the same level of social benefits. There are legitimate fears that there may be undue burdens placed on those States with more generous social welfare programmes, such as free education and free health care, as well as concerns about the potential for abuse of these programs.

One way the framers of the Protocol appear to seek to address this concern is by allowing for a phased approach through a built-in agenda (Article III). It enumerates a list of potential more extensive rights to be adopted by Member States on a phased approach subject to agreement. It also provides for monitoring and review. Additionally, temporary service providers are not entitled to contingent rights and safeguard measures in Article 47 apply to the Protocol mutatis mutandis.

Moving from paper to practice

CARICOM Member States are dualist States, that is, even after a treaty is signed by a Member State, it needs to be translated into domestic law in order for the treaty obligations to be binding on the State domestically. Therefore, the rights under the Protocol can only be enjoyed, and the State bound to provide these rights, once they have been translated into domestic law through an Act of Parliament.

  1. Domestic Ratification Needed by all signatories – For the Protocol to enter into force, it must be signed and then ratified by all parties to the Revised Treaty, which will not be an easy task. The Protocol, however, may be provisionally applied once seven or more of the Parties to the Protocol declare their intention to apply the Protocol provisionally before the Protocol enters into force.The next step is to ensure the Protocol is brought into force as soon as possible, thereby ensuring it is parlayed from mere ink on paper. On this front, it is commendable that Barbados, which has lead responsibility for the CSME in CARICOM’s quasi cabinet, is leading by example through its commencement of the ratification process.
  2. Procedures for implementation and monitoring – Procedures and systems must be put in place domestically and regionally to allow for implementation and monitoring of the Protocol’s operation to ensure Member States are honouring their commitments and to ascertain any problems. Data collection will be key.
  3. Training – Guidance, as well as further training of staff members of agencies which are tasked with implementation and monitoring, may be necessary.
  4. Public Awareness Campaign – As evidenced by the misinformation which was circulated on social media after the Bill was announced in Barbados, it is evident that a public awareness campaign is needed not only to educate CARICOM citizens about the rights contained in the Protocol and how they as nationals may benefit, but to help assuage concerns and fears about the Protocol’s intentions and implications.

The very timely Golding Commission Report, which had examined Jamaica’s relations within CARICOM and CARIFORUM, had spoken of the CSME implementation deficit and challenged regional leaders to chart a way forward. Having this Protocol enter into force would not only facilitate greater movement, but also be a much-needed injection of confidence to show the region’s populace that the CSME is not moribund. On this note, Barbados’ initiative to begin the ratification process is certainly a commendable one, and it is hoped that other CARICOM countries will swiftly follow suit.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international 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 Foreign Policy Coordination: Priority or Pipe Dream?

Alicia Nicholls

It has been generally recognized by most Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, at least in principle, that a coordinated voice on foreign policy issues endows our small countries with bargaining power beyond our size constraints. Indeed, foreign policy coordination is one of the four pillars of CARICOM, with economic integration, human and social development, and security being the other three. However, given the current and increasing discord among CARICOM countries on key international developments, is CARICOM foreign policy coordination still a priority, or is it merely a pipe dream?

An exercise of foreign policy is an exercise of a State’s sovereignty. In general terms, a State’s foreign policy is its strategy in interacting with other States, and is influenced by what that State determines to be its strategic national interests, values, goals and priorities. The key words here are “national interests”, and they may be underpinned by ideology, pragmatism or a combination of the two. A State’s foreign policy is not static, and may change depending on the ideology of the Government in power (for example, whether right-wing, left-wing or centrist) and changing national interests, values, goals and priorities.

As a State’s foreign policy is determined by its national interests, this means that a regional coordinated foreign policy inevitably necessitates the strategic alignment of the national interests of the countries concerned.

Rationale behind the goal of a coordinated CARICOM foreign policy

From as early as the days of CARIFTA (the Caribbean Free Trade Area), the predecessor of CARICOM, the founding architects of the Caribbean regional integration project viewed a coordinated foreign policy as a life raft for assisting our small, then newly independent Caribbean States, to navigate often hostile international Cold War waters in which powerful big country sharks would prey on us little small state ‘sprats’.

Our founding fathers, and later the drafters of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which established the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), saw a unified foreign policy position as an insurance policy against bullying tactics and the politics of ‘divide and conquer’ – the practice by major powers of playing off CARICOM States against each other, or picking them off one by one through inducements such as aid and other financial support in order to secure votes on hemispheric and international issues. It recognises the old adage of “strength in numbers”. For example, Article 6(h) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas states as one of the Community’s objectives “enhanced co-ordination of Member States’ foreign and [foreign] economic policies”.

Indeed, there have been several instances where Caribbean countries have successfully leveraged their collective voice and numeric strength to their own benefit. Comprising nearly half of the membership of the Organisation of American States (OAS), CARICOM countries are a crucial voting bloc which powerful countries deem necessary to court for voting support on critical hemispheric issues. In the United Nations (UN), CARICOM countries are a smaller but still critical voting bloc.

But do CARICOM member States’ national interests really align to such an extent that a coordinated foreign policy on all issues is still (or was ever) achievable? CARICOM comprises fourteen independent countries and one British Overseas Territory (Montserrat). This necessitates balancing national interests, values, goals and priorities which do not always necessarily align. Indeed, CARICOM countries, while all small States, have their differences, whether in terms of language, geography, economic structure, population, resource endowment or size. All of these factors impact on each State’s perceived national interests, values, goals and priorities.

Foreign policy coordination has been successful in areas like climate change where Caribbean countries see their national interests as inextricably linked. But even on this important issue, there is some policy incongruence. On the one hand, CARICOM countries have demanded more urgent global action to fight climate change, while on the other, some CARICOM member States are still pursuing hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, as part of their economic development strategy.

There have also been increasing (and frankly, embarrassing) instances of CARICOM foreign policy disunity, from as far back as the infamous US Ship Rider issue in the 1990s, the inability to unite around a single candidate for Commonwealth Secretary General in 2015, to as recently as the UN vote on the US’ controversial motion to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (instead of Tel Aviv). There is also the still unresolved issue of the region’s position on the One China Policy – some States recognize the People’s Republic of China, while a few still recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan).

The Venezuela Humanitarian Crisis

The latest example of foreign policy disunity relates to the devolving political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela – a country which, despite some differences, has been an important friend to the region in terms of aid and other support. I highlight the Venezuela crisis not just because it is one of the biggest hemispheric crises affecting the region, but it is a nuanced issue which clearly shows the divide in CARICOM countries’ national interests, and hence their diverging positions on the perceived solution.

The suffering of the Venezuelan people wrought by the incompetence of the Maduro regime, and made no better by western countries’ economic sanctions, have caused spill-over security, health, economic and other risks for neighbouring countries. According to the UN, over three million Venezuelans have fled that South American country since the start of the crisis. Many have migrated (illegally in many cases) to neighbouring countries, including Trinidad & Tobago. It is, therefore, in CARICOM countries’ interest for the humanitarian crisis to be solved. However, CARICOM countries differ on what they believe the solution should be.

On January 10, 2019, the OAS Permanent Council approved a resolution not to recognize the legitimacy of the second term of current Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro Moros. CARICOM’s disunity on this issue was again on full display for the world to see. The Bahamas, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia were among the 19 OAS member states which voted to approve the resolution. Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname were among the 6 (including of course, Venezuela) which voted against the resolution. St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Belize abstained, while Grenada was the only OAS member State which was absent for the vote.

What explains this disunity? To my mind, mainly national interests, exacerbated by the fact that CARICOM remains an inter-governmental organisation. For instance, Guyana is currently embroiled in a long-standing border dispute with Venezuela, which has been inflamed under the current Maduro regime. This may explain Guyana’s vote in favour of the resolution. Ditto could be said for Jamaica which had recently decided to reacquire Venezuela-owned shares in Petrojam. On the other hand, some other CARICOM Member States are members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and recipients of assistance from Venezuela through, inter alia, the PetroCaribe Initiative. This may explain why they voted against the resolution. National interests not only dictate a country’s position on an issue, but are what determine whether a CARICOM member State will change its vote based on the promise of aid or support.

Moreover, while the majority of CARICOM member States appear to have adopted a position of non-intervention, some member States (the Bahamas and Haiti) have decided to follow major Western powers in recognizing Opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as interim president of Venezuela.

Given the region’s friendship with Venezuela and the implications of the ongoing crisis for many CARICOM countries, it is commendable that some CARICOM governments have assumed a leadership role on this issue. Some CARICOM governments have vociferously challenged the pronouncements of the OAS Secretary General His Excellency Luis Almagro as not speaking for all OAS member states. A CARICOM delegation led by current CARICOM chairman Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, recently initiated a visit to the UN to discuss the crisis. It should be noted, however, that not all CARICOM governments took part in this meeting, which shows that even on this very important issue, the region still cannot sing from the same hymn sheet.

Is a coordinated CARICOM foreign policy merely a pipe dream?

There appears, at least in rhetoric, a renewed interest by CARICOM leaders in advancing the regional integration process, of which foreign policy coordination has traditionally been a major pillar. This has been aided no doubt by the initiative taken by Jamaica in the commissioning and publication of the Report of the Commission to Review Jamaica’s Relations within the CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks, more popularly referred to as the ‘Golding Report’, and the reinvigorated leadership displayed by Barbados under its new Prime Minister (lead for the CSME in CARICOM’s quasi-cabinet).

The Golding Report identified the glaring failures in foreign policy coordination as one of several challenges currently confronting the regional integration process. The report rightly cites several of the issues which account for this policy disunity, including offers of aid in exchange for votes, lack of political will, inability of diplomats to get clear policy instructions from their capitals, and of course, national interests. As such, recommendation 26 of the Report is to “review the procedures for foreign policy consultation and coordination in order to avoid as far as possible, the types of conflicts and embarrassing positions that have emerged from time to time among CARICOM members depriving it of the collective force it is capable of exerting”.

However, I would go further. In this time of increased introspection by our leaders on the regional integration process, I think there needs to be reconsideration of whether a coordinated foreign policy is really an achievable goal for the region or are we merely chasing a lofty pipe dream which our diverging national interests, values, goals and priorities may be unable to bridge. Indeed, can we really say that the region is any closer to a unified position on the One China policy? Moreover, given the current ideological divide in the region on the issue of citizenship by investment programmes (CIPs), can we really mount an effective and unified CARICOM approach against the EU’s targeting of CIPs in the region?

Let me clarify that I staunchly support our founding fathers’ conviction that there is strength in unified foreign policy positions. Indeed, the enormity of the global challenges confronting the region, whether from Brexit, the possibility of another global downturn, Venezuela, rising populist and nationalist sentiments internationally, blacklisting etc, means that a unified CARICOM front, to the extent possible, should be the desired default position for helping us navigate these challenges.

On the flipside, I also recognise that we must be honest with ourselves. We must face the reality that the goal of a coordinated foreign policy on all issues may be too ambitious given divergent national interests which have accounted for the increasing track record of foreign policy disunity. Indeed, these all too public displays of foreign policy disunity only serve to undermine the Caribbean public’s faith in the sincerity of our leaders’ commitment to the regional integration process, and to empower CARICOM-skeptics. We, perhaps, are setting ourselves up for failure.

An alternative and more achievable approach, therefore, could be for CARICOM member states to clearly identify specific foreign policy priority areas on which they would strive to present a unified policy position. The European Union (EU), for instance, has sought to harmonise its foreign policy (Common Foreign and Security Policy) primarily around security and human rights issues. For CARICOM, priority areas for foreign policy coordination could be more straightforward “low-hanging fruits” such as foreign trade, security, the loss of correspondent banking relationships due to de-risking by global banks, tax issues, and climate change. These are areas in which a unified CARICOM foreign policy position is perhaps most achievable and most effective.

I appreciate that my view may be unpopular and differs from traditional orthodoxy, but in these times of increased economic and geopolitical uncertainty, the continued desirability of pursuing a coordinated foreign policy is an issue which CARICOM will need to resolve and do so quickly, even if we decide we will only coordinate on certain foreign policy issues.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international 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.

CARICOM Heads to meet this week for 29th Intersessional HoG Meeting

Alicia Nicholls

Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will meet this week, February 26 & 27, 2018, in Port au Prince, Haiti for their 29th Intersessional Meeting. The meeting will be chaired by current chairman of the Conference of the Heads of Government, Haitian President, His Excellency Jovenel Moise.

Chairmanship of the Conference of Heads of Government rotates every six months. Haiti, which became a full member of CARICOM in 2002, will hold chairmanship from January 1st to June 30th. Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness will assume chairmanship on July 1st.

Major agenda items for the intersessional meeting include building climate resilience, crime and violence, the impact on CARICOM Member States of blacklisting actions and de-risking actions by global banks.

Additionally, according to the official press release, the meeting “will seek to advance plans to further strengthen key elements of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)  including those related to travel and trade”.

CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque; the immediate-past CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell of Grenada and current Chairman, President Moise of Haiti, will make remarks at the Opening Ceremony carded for February 26 and which will be live streamed on CARICOM’s website.

In anticipation of the meeting, Haiti’s Ministry of Trade held a Public Forum last Friday to discuss “Integration of Haiti in CARICOM: Challenges and Opportunities”.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international 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.

 

Mexico and CARICOM agree new areas for technical cooperation

Photo credit: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries and the Government of Mexico have approved the seventh Mexico-CARICOM Technical Cooperation Programme (2017-2019). This was one of the main outcomes of the Fourth CARICOM-Mexico Summit held this week on October 25, in Belize City, Belize. Hailed as “a new paradigm” in cooperation between CARICOM and the Government of Mexico, the new programme will include both existing and new priority areas for development cooperation which align with those identified in the CARICOM Strategic Plan 2015-2019 and the global development agenda.

Mexico and CARICOM have enjoyed four decades of diplomatic cooperation and friendship.  At the Third Mexico-CARICOM Summit in 2014 President of Mexico, His Excellency Enrique Pena Nieto had pledged his Government’s desire to build on and deepen those ties.

The discussions at  Wednesday’s summit touched on several areas of cooperation, including trade and investment, public health, education, cultural cooperation, technical assistance, and cooperation on the global development agenda. A member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Mexico has the world’s eleventh largest economy according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast data for 2017. This makes Mexico a potentially powerful voice and ally on international issues of interest to the Caribbean, including climate action,  de-risking and the need for multilateral financial institutions to revisit graduation criteria for official development assistance.

Disaster risk management was a major focus of the talks, as CARICOM countries and Mexico have both suffered significantly at the hands of natural disasters this year. Powerful hurricanes Irma and Maria caused major loss of life and damage in several Caribbean Islands, most tragically in Barbuda and Dominica. In September as well, Mexico was struck by Hurricane Katia around the same time that it was reeling from two devastatingly strong earthquakes within a two week span which claimed over 200 lives.

In addition to pledging their continued support for the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the CARICOM and Mexico heads of government/State agreed to a Mexico-CARICOM Strategy for Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management which, according to the summit’s official declaration, will comprise the following three main lines of work:

  1. strengthening initiatives already in place
  2. developing a complementary cooperation agenda, such as early warning, awareness raising, emergency response, among others
  3. joint action in multilateral fora and international mobilization to further strengthen and support Caribbean institutional capabilities for disaster risk management

The Mexican Government also made a US14 million grant to the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF SPC), a regional catastrophe fund formed in 2007 and which has had to pay out about US$50.7 million since the start of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season alone!

They have also agreed to support the establishment of a hydrometeorological monitoring centre for the Caribbean region and to collaborate to ensure  the success of the CARICOM-hosted International Donor Conference planned for November 21, 2017 at the UN Headquarters, New York. This conference will seek to mobilise assistance for those hurricane-struck Caribbean islands.

The Government of Mexico has also offered 150 scholarships for training Caribbean teachers of Spanish as a second language. This would assist in reducing the language barrier which would be one of the impediments for CARICOM exporters seeking to enter the Mexican market. According to data quoted in the CARICOM press release before the meeting, “between 2012 and 2016, imports from Mexico to CARICOM exceeded exports from CARICOM to Mexico, with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Barbados and Guyana being the main importing countries, accounting for 95 % of imports from Mexico between 2014 and 2016”.

The Joint Declaration of the CARICOM-Mexico Summit 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.

WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement: Why is it important for Caribbean Small States?

Alicia Nicholls

History was made on February 22nd when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) finally came into force. Coming into effect some four years after its conclusion at the WTO’s 9th Ministerial held in Bali, Indonesia in 2013, the TFA is a momentous achievement for the world, but also a plus for Caribbean small States which, like other developing countries, stand to benefit the most from the Agreement’s full implementation. Indeed, WTO economists estimate that full implementation of the TFA “could reduce [global] trade costs by an average of 14.3% and boost global trade by up to $1 trillion per year.”

Economic growth was one of the three broad themes discussed at the 28th Intersessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held in Georgetown, Guyana last week. Trade, both intra- and extra-regional, is an important contributor to economic growth, employment and poverty reduction. CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin Larocque recalled that the Community “has identified the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as the best vehicle to promote our overall economic growth and development”.

However, despite trade accounting for between 54-135% of Caribbean countries’ GDP according to World Bank data, the region’s share in global trade has been on a decline. Export performance and investment attraction remain lacklustre. Market and product diversification remain limited. Moreover, according to the last Caribbean Trade and Investment Report published in 2010, although intra-CARICOM merchandise trade was gaining momentum, it still only comprised “a minute portion of total CARICOM trade”.

Trade Facilitation can improve Caribbean trade

There is no one factor which explains the region’s declining trade performance or the still limited intra-CARICOM trade. For instance, a 2015 Compete Caribbean study noted that except for three countries, customs and trade regulations were found not to be a significant obstacle for doing business. With regard to intra-regional trade, high transportation costs remain one of the biggest barriers. However, with regard to extra-regional trade, a 2013 World Bank Report highlighted the low customs performance of Caribbean countries’ despite their high trade openness.  Another World Bank report noted that port handling charges in the Caribbean “can be two to three times higher than in similar ports in other regions”.

Unnecessarily burdensome border procedures and costly border fees make it difficult for exporters to access other markets, even where trade agreements or preferential arrangements exist. This is made even more difficult in cases where customs and other administrative procedures are opaque and rely largely on paper-based processes as opposed to electronic payments and e-documents. While large firms can invest the time, human and financial resources in navigating complex border rules and procedures in other markets, small-and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)’s often lack this luxury. Add in a foreign language, and it gets even more complicated. Improving trade facilitation can help boost Caribbean countries’ competitiveness, while facilitating policies and support structures can assist Caribbean firms’ access to regional and international markets. After all, States do not trade, firms do.

The TFA addresses one of the biggest constraints of SMEs seeking to do business internationally through the simplification, harmonisation and modernisation of customs procedures, while also fostering transparency and reducing transaction costs. The TFA includes provisions aimed at facilitating the release and clearance of goods through customs, requires States to publish rules and procedures and to establish contact points for enquiries, facilitates border agency cooperation, provides procedures for appeal and review and disciplines for fees and penalties, inter alia.

Developed countries have committed to implementing all of the provisions of the Agreement upon its entry into force, which means accessing those markets should be easier at least from a customs standpoint. Like other WTO developing country and Least Developed Country (LDC) Member States, Caribbean countries’ implementation of the TFA will be based on their ability to do so. Member States are allowed to schedule their commitments for the Agreement’s provisions into three categories: A, B, C, with category A commitments being those which the Member State can implement upon the Agreement’s entry into force (or within one year of entry into force for an LDC). Importantly for Caribbean countries, they will also have access to the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility which was established to assist developing countries and LDCs in their implementation efforts.

In a world with increasingly globalised supply chains, the smooth flow of trade across borders is important for improving Caribbean countries’ competitiveness and ability to participate in Global Value Chains (GVCs). Implementing the reforms pursuant to the TFA can also be beneficial for intra-regional trade, through the harmonisation of customs procedures.

Trade facilitation has other benefits as well, as noted in the WTO study on this issue. An improved trade and investment climate increases the attractiveness of a country for foreign direct investors. Moreover, transparent customs procedures reduce the opportunity for customs fraud and corruption, and improves revenue collection. It should be noted that not only are foreign direct investment inflows critical for Caribbean economies, but customs and other import taxes remain an important revenue source for many Caribbean governments.

Trade Facilitation Measures in the Caribbean

The encouraging news is that several Caribbean countries have begun trade facilitation reforms, including improvements in port infrastructure and simplification of customs procedures in recent years. As was noted in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report – 2017, Antigua & Barbuda removed the requirement of a tax compliance certificate for import customs clearance, while Grenada streamlined its import document submission procedures.  Haiti has allowed the submission of supporting documents online under its SYDONIA electronic data interchange system.

Trinidad & Tobago was among the first countries to ratify the TFA, while Belize, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and Dominica have also ratified the Agreement. Trinidad & Tobago (in regards to advance rulings) and the Dominican Republic (has not yet ratified the TFA) and Jamaica (authorised traders) are among several countries which have been identified as case studies in the implementation of trade facilitation measures.

With the help of a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Barbados (which has not yet ratified the TFA) has introduced an Electronic Single Window, part of a wider competitiveness programme. Through its Global Logistics Initiative, Jamaica is seeking to take advantage of its location in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes to become the premier logistics node within the Americas. However, in light of increased competition from other parts of the world, particularly for global investment flows, there is the need for the region to increase the pace of its trade facilitation reforms.

What is next?

Given the benefits that the at-the-border and behind-the-border reforms pursuant to the TFA can have for regional SMEs and for facilitating Caribbean trade, it is hoped that other Caribbean countries will ratify the Agreement. For those which have not yet done so, ratification of the Agreement could serve as a powerful signal to investors of their commitment to trade and business facilitation.

Caribbean countries should move expeditiously to develop and implement national strategies for trade facilitation. This would involve assessing their country’s readiness to implement the various provisions of the TFA through identifying capacity gaps and implementation needs, on which basis they will categorise the provisions and make their notifications. Implementation capacity, of course, varies from one country to another. Caribbean countries should also continue to make use of technical and financial assistance and capacity building support for the implementation of the measures.

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.

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.

 

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.
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