Tag Archives: Caribbean

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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ACP Trade Ministers demand ‘concrete outcomes’ at upcoming WTO MC11

Alicia Nicholls

Trade ministers and other representatives from the 79-member Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries added their voices to demands for ‘concrete outcomes’ at the upcoming World Trade Organisation’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference (WTO MC11). Preparations for the upcoming WTO MC11 was one of several topics discussed by ACP trade representatives at their 20th ACP Ministerial Trade Committee meeting held in Brussels on 18-19 October last week.

According to the press release from the meeting, the ACP representatives  reiterated the need for a development-friendly and robust MC11 work programme which recognized differences between developed, developing and least developed countries and whose outcomes were aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Reaffirming their commitment to the multilateral trading system, they also called for “inclusiveness, consensus and transparency in all WTO decision-making processes, as well as careful framing of any reform evaluation of the WTO to ensure that the interests of all countries are protected”. Guyana was chosen to be the spokesperson for the ACP Group at the Ministerial which will take place in Buenos Aires December 10-13, 2017.

In a speech delivered at the ACP meeting, the WTO’s Director General, Roberto Azevedo, acknowledged the important role ACP countries have played in shaping the WTO’s work.

Mr. Azevedo gave a brief status report on the WTO’s preparatory work for the upcoming Ministerial Conference, lauding the ACP countries for being at the “forefront” of these discussions. He noted that although there were some positive signs, the many gaps to bridge meant that there was still much work ahead with respect to the negotiations.  He further reiterated that in order to achieve concrete results in Buenos Aires, “more focused engagement and negotiation will be required to quickly identify areas of convergence”.

In the meeting which was chaired by the Hon. Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, ACP trade representatives also focused on several  other topics of importance to ACP countries’ trade, including enhancing trade among ACP countries and trade issues with the European Union (EU).

The ACP press release also notes that ACP representatives have committed to “increased integration, unity and solidarity” among ACP countries, including taking more “joint ACP approaches to trade and development”.

The press release from the ACP can be read here.

The WTO Director-General’s full speech can be read 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.

Caribbean leaders place spotlight on climate change at UNGA

“To deny climate change is to deny a truth we have just lived” – The Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica

Alicia Nicholls

These powerful words uttered by Prime Minister of Dominica, The Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit were perhaps the most memorable from the United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA) seventy-second session. It was against the tragic backdrop of the devastation inflicted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria on several Caribbean islands that successive Caribbean leaders made their addresses during the UNGA general debate, highlighting the urgency of the need to address climate change in a meaningful way.

There were many moving addresses, but the most impactful  was the address by Mr Skerrit, whose country was severely battered by the Category 5 power of Hurricane Maria just days before. Reiterating that he was “coming from the front line of the war on climate change”, Mr. Skerrit reminded participants of the horror which Tropical Storm Erika had inflicted on the island back in 2015 and the tragedy currently unfolding due to Hurricane Maria where the confirmed death toll is 27 and several other persons remain missing.

In the space of a couple of hours, Dominica’s iconic mountains, once resplendent in coats of green and through which flowed clear rivers, had turned brown with mud and rubble. Some 95% of homes have reportedly lost their roofs in some places. Every one of the Nature Isle’s 70,000 inhabitants has been affected in some way.

Proclaiming that “Eden is broken”, he declared that Dominica was faced with “an international humanitarian emergency”. A fortnight before Maria hit Dominica, Barbuda, the smaller of the two main islands of the country of Antigua & Barbuda, was hit by Category 5 Hurricane Irma, leading to a complete evacuation of the entire island after the crisis. Hurricane Irma also did not spare Cuba or the island of St. Martin, split between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of France.

But besides the human and infrastructural losses, the economic toll will be equally enduring for those countries affected. A recent report estimates that Hurricane Irma caused $45 billion in damage in the Caribbean, with at least $30 billion in Puerto Rico.   With Maria, this toll will be expected to rise. A rapid damage and assessment had found that Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 had inflicted loss and damage on Dominica of US$483 million, equivalent to 90% of the island’s GDP. Hurricane Maria was much worse.

While climate change is not the cause of hurricanes, warmer waters in the Atlantic is believed by scientists to be the cause of stronger, more powerful hurricanes during this hurricane season. Hurricane Irma and Maria both rapidly developed into Category 5 hurricanes and the back to back pummeling of several Caribbean islands by two Category 5 hurricanes in such a short space of time is certainly not an everyday occurence, but one which may become a more frequent reality as global temperatures increase.

It is these realities which led Caribbean countries and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to be at the forefront of climate change negotiations which eventually led to the historic Paris Agreement being signed in December, 2015. It is why the decision by US President Donald Trump to declare that the US, the world’s largest polluter, would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement was extremely unfortunate.

As Hurricane Harvey and Irma potently showed in the US states of Texas and Florida, wealthy nations like the US are not immune to the more deadly effects of climate change. However, Caribbean countries, like all SIDS, are poorly equipped, both geographically and economically, to confront these disasters. Their fragile economies are dependent on industries which are among the first economic victims of storm devastation, tourism being the clearest example.

Moreover, their generally high  GDP per capita and “middle income” designation makes most concessionary loans and certain types of development aid beyond their reach due to outdated notions that GDP per capita is a good measure of wealth for countries. This point was raised in the address by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados, Senator the Honourable Maxine McClean. Barbados was spared the devastation of both Hurricanes Irma and Maria and has been among the forefront of relief efforts in Dominica.

As was eloquently put in a recent World Bank blog, hurricanes can seriously turn back the developmental clock. This is certainly the case with Dominica which was still in many ways recovering from Tropical Storm Erika and will face a much longer recovery following Hurricane Maria. It is also the case with the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands which are also facing tremendous human suffering after being pounded by both Irma and Maria. Puerto Rico’s economy was already fragile due to the huge debt crisis being faced and is now faced with many places without drinking water or electricity.

Platitudes and best endeavour promises do little to allay the reality that there is little time left to reverse the damage which has been done and reverse course towards more severe temperature increases. The Paris Agreement was an important step but there needs to be stronger commitment, ambition and meaningful action by all nations, especially those which are the most responsible for atmospheric pollution, to take steps to meet and go beyond the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets they set for themselves.

There also needs to be greater support for SIDS which bear a disproportionate brunt of the consequences. The issue of climate finance was raised by Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua & Barbuda, who mentioned debt swaps as a possible option, and the need for greater finance for building resilience, as well as reminded participants of the economic vulnerability of countries which were faced with high debt, large trade deficits and small, undeveloped financial markets.

As Prime Minister of Dominica, Mr. Skerrit rightly stated, “we need action and we need it now”.

Mr. Skerrit’s full speech may be viewed here.

The CTLD Blog extends our heartfelt sympathy to all our Caribbean brothers and sisters affected by the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma and Maria.

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.

 

Why the proposed US fee on remittance outflows to LAC makes no sense

Photo credit: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The cost of sending remittances from the US to some Latin American and Caribbean countries and dependencies will increase should HR 1813 introduced in the United States (US) House of Representatives on March 30, 2017, be passed. The proposed Bill entitled the “Border Wall Funding Act of 2017”, would amend the Electronic Fund Transfer Act by imposing a two percent fee on the US dollar value of remittances (before any remittance transfer fees) on the countries listed. The bill is sponsored by Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama’s third district.

One of President Donald Trump’s most controversial campaign promises was to build a wall along the US’ southern border, which he claimed would be paid for by the Government of Mexico, to deter illegal immigration. The Government of Mexico has consistently and strongly denied that its taxpayers would be paying for the wall. As a result Republican lawmakers have been seeking ways to fund the wall without relying on the US taxpayer. Instead, should this bill become law, it will raise money for the wall on the backs of hardworking Caribbean and Latin American immigrants living in the US, some of which are actually US citizens.

Here are some few reasons why I, respectfully, believe the proposed fee makes no sense:

  1. The wall will still be paid for by some US taxpayers

The two percent fee is to be imposed on the sender of any remittances sent to recipients in the countries identified. Ironically, it would still be funded by some US taxpayers as some remittance senders are either US-born or have acquired US citizenship or have greencard status. Data from the 2015 American Community Survey show that there are an estimated 4 million Caribbean-born immigrants living in the US. Some 58.4% of those became naturalised US citizens, while 41.6% are not yet US citizens according to US Census Bureau 2016 data.

2. The list of ‘foreign countries’ excludes some of the largest sources of illegal immigrants to the US

The affected  countries would be: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Aruba, Curacao, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.

This arbitrarily drawn up list raises two main questions. (1) Why were Caribbean countries included in this list? The Caribbean sub-region as a whole only accounts for 2% of the illegal immigrant population in the US, according to Migration Policy Institute analyses. (2) Why were only countries from the Americas targeted when several Asian countries, like China for example, rank among the top sources of illegal immigrants to the US?

3. It is unlikely to raise enough money to pay for the border wall

It is unlikely that the two percent fee will raise enough money to pay for a wall which is estimated by a leaked memo from the US Department of Homeland Security to cost some 21.6 billion dollars, particularly if the monies will be raised mainly on the back of remittances sent to small Central American and Caribbean countries. Moreover, despite the threat of penalties, people will inevitably find ways to evade the fee by increasing their use of informal channels for sending remittances.

4. It could destabilise the US’ backyard which is contrary to US strategic homeland security interests.

With many of the region’s economies already threatened by de-risking, elevated debt levels and high unemployment, this proposed Bill is another worrying development. Although I do not believe the fee will stop the US-based Caribbean diaspora from remitting money to their loved ones, it may make it more difficult for them to do so as frequently as they normally do, which could have social and economic implications for the most remittance-dependent economies.

The Caribbean diaspora community in the US is an important source of remittance flows to the Region. According to a World Bank Migration and Development Brief released this month, stronger US job growth and a stronger US dollar were major reasons why the LAC Region was the only region to register an increase (6.9 percent) in remittance flows, with a total of $73 billion inflows in 2016. This is in contrast to the global landscape where remittances to developing countries in 2016 declined for the second consecutive year in a row.

Haiti and Honduras are the two most remittance dependent countries in the LAC Region and rank among the most remittance-dependent economies in the world, among countries for which data are available. Data provided in the previously mentioned World Bank Report show that in 2016 remittance inflows were equivalent to 27.8% of GDP for Haiti, 18.4% of GDP for Honduras, 17.6% of GDP for Jamaica, 17.2% of GDP for El Salvador,  and 8.6% of GDP for Guyana. For Belize it was 5% and Dominica, 4.6% of GDP.

A 2010 Report released by the Bank of Jamaica entitled “Remittances to Jamaica: Findings from a National Survey of Remittance Recipients” revealed that “more than half of the remittances sent back to Jamaica come from the US” and found that “remittances are an essential source of financing to many Jamaican recipients, which is used to supplement household income for necessities such as food, utilities and education”.

Successive US administrations have generally recognised that an economically and socially stable Caribbean region was in the US’ strategic homeland security interests. This is why the US government through its various economic and military aid programmes has poured millions of dollars into assisting Caribbean countries on issues such as crime, border security, among other things.

Besides the hardship that could be caused at the micro-level, a reduction in remittance inflows due to higher costs could have poverty alleviation and crime reduction implications and could have a destabilising effect on those economies and societies which are the most dependent on them. The same Bank of Jamaica report noted that “remittances to Jamaica have become an important source of foreign exchange and balance of payments support”.

Due to the paucity of official remittance data for many Caribbean countries, the importance of remittances to LAC economies is still underestimated and its micro and macro-economic importance to Caribbean economies is likely higher than currently measured.

How should we respond?

The bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations on April 21, 2017 and will need to be debated and passed by both chambers of Congress before being sent to the President for signature into law.

Latin American and Caribbean governments, along with their diplomatic representatives and the diaspora, should lobby against the passage of this bill by engaging in discussions with Congressional and other officials on the serious economic and social impact any potentially significant decline in remittance inflows could have on remittance-dependent countries in the Region, and the spin-off negative effect this could have on the US homeland.

To view the text of the proposed Bill, please see 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.

French Election 2017: What’s at stake for the world and the Caribbean?

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The results of the first round of voting in the two-round French presidential elections are in! Pro-EU businessman Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen are the two candidates who will face off in the second/final round of voting within a fortnight.

French presidential elections do not normally attract this much fanfare internationally, but the results of the first round of the 2017 race are interesting for two main reasons. The first is that there is a 50% chance that there could be a Le Pen presidency which would add to a growing string of political upsets globally. The second is that neither candidate is from the mainstream political parties in France, a firm rejection by the French people of the entrenched political establishment, not unlike what occurred in the US with the election of Donald Trump.

France has a two-ballot presidential election system which means that in the event of no one candidate winning over 50% of the votes in the first ballot, the two front-runners  have to face off against each other in a second ballot. As of the time of this article’s writing, Emmanuel Macron is estimated to have won this first run-off with  23.9% of the vote, while Ms. Le Pen came second with 21.4%, beating the other candidates.

France at the moment is facing lacklustre GDP growth, high unemployment, high debt and an increase in high-profile and deadly terrorist attacks, which means the anti-establishment, anti-business as usual mood comes as no surprise. Incumbent President, Francois Hollande, currently faces low approval ratings and has decided not to seek a second term.

The Two Candidates

While Macron and Le Pen are ‘outsiders’ from the political mainstream, the two candidates represent two diammetrically opposed worldviews. Emmanuel Macron is a former investment banker who has never held elected office, but had worked for Mr. Francois Hollande during the 2012 Presidential Election campaign. He also subsequently served as Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs under then Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2014 until August 2016. Mr. Macron founded his own party En Marche!  in April 2016 which currently has 253,907 members, according to the Party’s official website. The centrist Mr. Macron is pro- Europe, socially liberal and believes that France’s prosperity can be ensured through pursuing pro-trade and outward-looking policies and through continued membership in the EU.

Marine Le Pen is a lawyer, a Member of the European Parliament since 2009 and the leader of the populist Front National, a far-right party which had been on the dark fringes of French politics until recently.  She is the daughter of Front National co-founder, Jean Marie Le Pen, a far-right ethno-nationalist.  She sought to distance herself from some of her father’s most extreme views as she sought to broaden the Party’s appeal, and succeeded in having him ousted from the party. Ms. Le Pen, however, has strongly anti-immigrant, anti-EU views and has expressed enthusiastic support of both Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US.

The polarity in the views of the two candidates means that the election of either will have completely opposite global implications.

What’s at stake with the French presidential election?

Although polls are showing a Macron victory, Le Pen still has a chance of winning the final run-off on May 7. A Le Pen victory on May 7th would be the continuation of a nationalist, inward-looking turn in advanced western economies, with both economic and geopolitical implications. Domestically, she has indicated her intention to pursue protectionist economic policies and champion anti-immigration reforms. She is anti-globalisation and anti-free trade. She has vowed that she would pull France from the EU and the eurozone, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). She has voiced her intention to strengthen relations with Russia and had forcefully condemned the EU decision to extend its sanctions on Russia until mid-2017.

In their forecasts for the global economy and world trade respectively, both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have forecast higher growth rates but noted the vulnerability of the forecast growth to trade, monetary and other policies pursued by governments. IMF Managing Director, Christine Legarde (who is a former French Minister of Finance) has been reported as stating that a Le Pen presidency could lead to political and economic upheaval.

First, France is the 6th largest economy in the world. A founding member of the EU, it is also the eurozone’s second largest economy. A more isolationist France would impact on the global economy and have implications for western approaches to current global threats and a reshaping of global alliances. Moreover, a French withdrawal from the EU (termed ‘Frexit’), coming on the heels of the UK’s withdrawal from same, could plunge the EU into an existential crisis more so than Brexit would.

Any implications of the French election for the Caribbean?

Will there be any implications of a possible Le Pen presidency for the Caribbean? The specifics of Ms. Le Pen’s policies are still not fleshed out. However, a French withdrawal from the EU would reduce the amount of EU development assistance which the region currently receives under the European Development Fund (EDF).

But what about trade? Thanks to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed between the EU and CARIFORUM in 2008, the countries which make up CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) currently enjoy preferential market access for their goods and services to the EU market, including to the French market (and to French Caribbean Outermost Regions, by extension).

However, should France leave the EU, it would no longer be a party to the EPA. On its own, the lack of preferential access to the French market would be unlikely to have any significant economic impact on the anglophone Caribbean trade-wise as the volume of trade between English-speaking Caribbean countries and metropolitan France is limited.

There are, however, small but growing trade links between some CARICOM countries) and the FCORs, which are Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. Martinique, for example, is one of the most important source markets for tourists to St. Lucia. While there are issues which have inhibited greater CARIFORUM trade with FCORs including the language barrier and the ‘octroi de mer’ (dock dues) charged on all imports into FCORs (despite the EPA), the FCORs are also seen as stepping stones for exporting to continental Europe using the EPA. A French withdrawal from the EU if Ms. Le Pen wins means the latter will not be possible.

It is the democratic right of the French populace to choose which of the two candidates is in their country’s best interests. However, given France’s economic and geopolitical importance globally, and the political upsets of late, the results of the final round on May 7 will reverberate far beyond its borders.

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.

The Trump Presidency – Implications and Opportunities for Caribbean IFCs

Alicia Nicholls

On March 31, 2017 I was a panellist representing FRANHENDY ATTORNEYS at the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) Barbados International Business Forum 2017 entitled “Is the Barbados International Business Sector Under Attack?” held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in Barbados.

I was on the second panel which discussed the topic “The Trump Presidency – Implications and Opportunities for IFCs“. My esteemed fellow panellists were Jeremy Stephen, Economist and UWI Lecturer, Lisa Cummins, Executive Director of UWIConsulting and Cadian Dummond, Attorney at Law. The discussion was expertly moderated by Melanie Jones, Partner at Lex Caribbean Attorneys-At-Law.

I spoke to the possible implications of the Trump Presidency in regards to de-risking, FATCA and visa restrictions.

For those who missed the panel discussion and have expressed interest in my remarks, please find a copy of same in powerpoint form here. Enjoy!

For more on past presentations I have done, please see news and announcements.

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.

 

 

Will US Financial Deregulation help mitigate the de-risking phenomenon?

Alicia Nicholls

The exigencies of complying with a complex and often confusing maze of overlapping regulations, coupled with steep fines for compliance breaches, have been identified as principle drivers for United States-based global banks’ restriction and termination of correspondent banking relationships with respondent banks in other jurisdictions. As part of his promise to “Make America Great Again”, US President Donald Trump has pledged to cut the regulatory noose argued to be strangling US enterprise and growth. Will this deregulatory push have the unintended spin-off of mitigating the de-risking phenomenon facing several countries around the world, including Caribbean States?

President Trump has been adamant that ‘burdensome’ regulations passed during the Obama administration to avert a repeat of the Global Economic and Financial Crisis of 2008, have been fetters on US business activity and prosperity. While most available data point to the contrary, the Trump Administration and Corporate America posit that Obama-era regulations like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) have reduced bank profitability and risk appetite, culminating in dampened bank lending to consumers and businesses.

President Trump has so far signed two executive actions on financial deregulation. The latter, an executive order dated February 3, 2017, sets out seven core principles for regulating the US Financial System. It mandates Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, to consult with the heads of the member agencies of the Financial Stability Oversight Committee (FSOC) and to submit to the President within 120 days a review of “laws, treaties, regulations, guidance” inter alia, which among other things inhibit regulation in sync with the Core Principles. There has been reportedly a shift towards more ‘pro-business’ regulators. Perhaps most telling, in contrast to his anti-Wall Street rhetoric during the campaign, President Trump has picked several former bankers (notably Goldman Sachs) for key cabinet and administration positions, including for Treasury Secretary.

Stringent compliance burdens and costs, as well as uncertainty about the interpretation of the regulations, are major drivers for banks’ avoiding, rather than managing risks. Will an unintended consequence of financial deregulation in the US be a mitigation of the de-risking phenomenon? While at first blush this conclusion may appear tempting, I respectfully submit that this may be an overly optimistic view, at least at this early stage, for the reasons which I outline below.

Firstly, the Trump Administration has set its cross-hairs firmly on the Dodd Frank Act which President Trump termed a “disaster”. This Act, which is hundreds of pages long, was passed in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It includes, for instance, rules against predatory lending, sets measures to deal with banks which become “too big to fail”, prohibits proprietary trading by banks for their own profit (Volcker Rule), inter alia. While Dodd Frank is not perfect and has been blamed for contributing to de-risking, repealing it would not only create an environment for a resumption of the pre-crisis risky behaviours by banks and other financial institutions. It would set the stage for a repeat of 2008, in much the same way that deregulation during the 1990s to early 2000s, including changes to the (now repealed) Glass-Steagall Act, laid the groundwork for the Great Recession, almost a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Secondly, Dodd-Frank is just one aspect of the de-risking problem. There appears to be no indication that the Trump Administration intends to tackle the constellation of other regulations, including international anti-money laundering, countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT), tax and banking regulations (Basel III), with which banks, including in the US, must comply.

In the World Bank’s seminal 2015 global survey on the Withdrawal from Correspondent Banking, some 95% of large banks had cited “concerns about money-laundering/terrorism financing risks” as a driver for withdrawing from correspondent banking relationships. However, it is unlikely that the Trump Administration will try to rollback AML/CFT rules. President Trump’s ‘America First’ ethos has a strong national security undertone. Weakening the US’ AML/CFT rules would likely make him appear ‘soft’ on money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism. International pressure is also a factor as the US’ last Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Mutual Evaluation Report (2016) highlighted some AML/CFT weaknesses, including gaps in timely access to beneficial ownership information.

Thirdly, replacing existing regulators with so-called pro-business regulators does not necessarily mean that there will be a more lenient approach to fines imposed on banks for compliance breaches. Unlike popular belief, most of the large banks which have been made to pay record fines had indeed knowingly committed serious AML/CFT breaches.

Fourthly, even if financial deregulation in the US eases the regulatory pressure on US global banks, it does not affect two core problems which appear to be driving the de-risking of regional banks, namely the perceived unprofitability of providing correspondent banking services to indigenous Caribbean banks, and the Caribbean region’s unjustified characterisation as a ‘high risk’ region for conducting financial services. In the previously mentioned World Bank 2015 Survey, some 80% of large banks cited “lack of profitability of certain foreign CBR services/products” as a driver of exiting correspondent banking relationships.

Further to the latter point, Caribbean countries, particularly international financial centres (IFCs) are consistently and unjustifiably placed on US government lists deeming them as money laundering threats, despite the fact that no Caribbean IFC is currently on any CFATF list of ‘high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions’. The most notorious example of this unfair practice is the US’ annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the latest edition of which listed 21 Caribbean jurisdictions without providing (as usual) any evidence to support the conclusions drawn.

Caribbean countries are consistently branded as tax havens in spite of the fact that all Caribbean countries have signed intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with the US Government pursuant to the extra-territorially applied US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) passed in 2010. Most Caribbean governments have already passed implementing legislation to bring their IGAs into force. In addition, while the US has opted not to be a part of the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard, several Caribbean countries have elected to be early adopters!

Added to this is that compliance officers in overseas banks usually view the Caribbean as a “collective” and not as individual countries; any perceived risks in one country are transposed to the Region as a whole.

Granted, it is still early days of the Trump Administration and the findings of the Treasury Secretary’s report on which regulations may possibly be earmarked for axing would not be known for some time. What does help, however, is where there is clarification of the rules through clearer guidance. For instance, for a long time it was unclear how far banks’ due diligence requirements were to go. In addition to knowing their customer (KYC), there appeared to be a growing consensus that banks were also supposed to know their customer’s customers (KYCC).  Definitive guidance through the FATF Guidance in October 2016 showed that KYCC was not required. Turning to the US, that same month the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released guidance to assist banks in the periodic risk reevaluation of foreign correspondent banking relationships.

However, the Region would be well-advised not to expect any serious mitigation of the de-risking phenomenon stemming from US financial deregulation. Despite being a ‘pro-business’ administration, it should be remembered that the overriding goal of the Trump Administration’s regulatory rollback is to “Make America Great Again”, point blank. Any spill-over positive benefits to the Caribbean from Trumpian financial deregulation would be welcomed but unintended, and it is more likely that the regulatory rollback may perhaps be more harmful than helpful to the region.

There is no panacea for the de-risking phenomenon as it is caused by a multiplicity of factors. Regional governments and private sector stakeholders should continue their lobbying and advocacy efforts, including engagement with key US administration officials, regulators and the banking sector. Given the Trump Administration’s ‘America First’ disposition, lobbying efforts which emphasises the implications that possible derisking-related economic and social destabilisation in the Caribbean may have on the US’ homeland security would be more impactful than pure moral suasion.

These advocacy efforts should also highlight to US officials and to US correspondent banks Caribbean countries’ own efforts at continuously improving their AML/CFT frameworks and the compliance efforts of Caribbean banks. Regional banking stakeholders should also continue to explore the possibility of investing in technologies such as Know Your Customer (KYC) utilities and legal entity identifiers (LEIs) to assist in customer due diligence (CDD) information sharing between themselves and their US correspondents.

These were part of the remarks I gave as a panellist at the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) International Business Forum 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.

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