Tag Archives: caribbean community

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.

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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.

CARICOM Council of Ministers meeting

Alicia Nicholls

The CARICOM Community Council of Ministers is currently having its 37th meeting in Georgetown, Guyana.  The Council is the second highest organ of the Community (after the Conference of the Heads of Government) and has primary responsibility for the development of Community strategic planning and coordination in the areas of economic integration, functional cooperation and external relations.

According to a news report by CARICOM Today, the items on the agenda are the Community Secretariat’s Work Programme and the budget for 2016. They are informed by the Community Strategic Plan 2015-2019 which seeks to reposition CARICOM. The Council, which consists of Ministers responsible for Community affairs or any other Minister designated by Member States, functions as a preparatory body for meetings of Heads of Government. The Council’s work at this session will inform the agenda at the upcoming Twenty-Seventh Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government in Belize next month.

In his address to the Council, CARICOM Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque noted that the reform process was currently moving apace and that a planning, monitoring and evaluating system for the Strategic Plan is being developed with financing from the Caribbean Development Bank. He made reference to the development of a strategic business plan for the CARICOM Secretariat guided by the Change Management Office. Citing the historic Cop21 Paris Agreement, Ambassador LaRocque emphasised that “[CARICOM’s] achievements have been rooted in [its] united actions”and urged the need to carry this approach forward in the region’s efforts to provide a “safe, viable and sustainable Community for all citizens”.

This view was also reiterated by  the Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belize and Chairman of the Community Council of Ministers of CARICOM.   Addressing the Council, Chairman Elrington emphasised the importance of building on the successes attained, stressing that the region’s challenges can only be overcome by “resolute collective action”. He noted the need to make governance arrangements more “flexible and dynamic”.

Chairman Elrington also took the opportunity to encourage all remaining member states which have not yet done so to make CARICOM’s Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) their appellate court. To date Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana are the only member states which have accepted the CCJ as their final court of appeal. He expressed Belize’s pleasure with the “excellent results” it has received from the Court thus far.

Further information on the 37th Council Meeting may be obtained from CARICOM Today.

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.

Belize assumes CARICOM Chairmanship

Alicia Nicholls

Prime Minister of Belize, the Hon Dean Barrow, has assumed the chairmanship of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) from January 1st, 2016.

The chairmanship of CARICOM operates on a fixed rotating schedule with the Head of Government of each Member State assuming chairmanship for a six month stint each. Mr. Barrow, whose  United Democratic Party won its third successive term of office following general elections in November 2015, succeeds Prime Minister of Barbados, the Rt. Hon Freundel Stuart to the Community’s chairmanship. Mr. Stuart had been chairman from July 1st- December 31st.

In his End of Year Message, the then outgoing chairman, Prime Minister Stuart of Barbados, deemed 2015 “a year of great importance” to the Region, highlighting that 2015 had “demonstrated in no uncertain terms the value of the Caribbean regional integration project to our Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the influence that our united front can wield in the international arena”.

Though lamenting the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Erika, Prime Minister Stuart pointed out several CARICOM achievements on the international front, namely the successes at three important conferences: COP21, Financing for Development and UN Post 2015 Development Agenda, and the election of Dominica-born Baroness Patricia Scotland as the first female Secretary General of the Commonwealth. On the regional sphere, Mr. Stuart mentioned the movement made by Member States on the implementation of the CSME Application Processing System (CAPS) , the establishment of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) and the work of the CARICOM commisions on Human Resource Development and on reparations.

The new chairman Mr. Barrow, who will hold the Chairmanship reins from January 1st to June 30th, last held chairmanship of the Community in 2009. At the start of this current stint, Chairman Barrow articulated his vision for the Community in his New Year’s message which is available for download on CARICOM Today’s website. Though recognising the harsh economic climate still facing the Region, Mr. Barrow stated that the Community’s resolution is to “continue to strengthen our integration movement to deliver ever-increasing benefits to the people of our Community”.

To this effect, he outlined several goals which the Community will be working towards in 2016, including:

  • Becoming “more efficient and effective in the conduct of [CARICOM] affairs”,
  • Increasing “the pace of the reform process which includes the Community Five-Year Strategic Plan 2015-2019 “,
  • Encouraging more CARICOM members to sign on to the appellate function of the Caribbean Court of Justice. So far only Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica recognise the CCJ as their final court of appeal,
  • Making the governance arrangements “more flexible and dynamic”, including revising the “arrangements for [the] integration movement to become more effective and relevant to the needs of our people”,
  • Working towards the consolidation of the Single Market,
  • Increasing efforts to combat crime “through initiatives which target those most at risk in our societies”,
  • Using CARICOM’s coordinated foreign policy “to advocate at every opportunity for urgent implementation” of decisions  taken on Financing for Development, the 2030 Development Goals and Climate Change.

With a clarion call for CARICOM to strive to make 2016 one to remember as “a landmark year for our integration movement”, Mr. Barrow also rightly noted:

The base factor in whatever we have achieved has been the strength of our unity.  That was never more evident than in the manner in which we rallied together to attain our objectives at the three major international conferences in the past year, particularly at COP 21 in Paris.

I wish Mr. Barrow a successful tenure.

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.