Tag Archives: CARICOM

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

Alicia Nicholls

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

UK-CARICOM Trading Relations

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

As the EU agreements to which the UK is currently part will cease to apply to the UK once it has completely withdrawn from the EU, here is what CARICOM/CARIFORUM will losing preferential access to (a) the world’s fifth largest economy (or sixth largest according to some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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Commonwealth Advantage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CARICOM & Cuba Foreign Ministers meet

Alicia Nicholls

Foreign Affairs ministers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Republic of Cuba met at the iconic Tryp Habana Libre Hotel in Havana, Cuba, on March 11, 2017, for the Fifth Ministerial Meeting of CARICOM-Cuba. As noted in the official communique, the meeting also marks the commemoration of the Forty-fifth Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Independent States of CARICOM and Cuba and the Fifteenth Anniversary of Cuba-CARICOM Day.

Discussion items at the Meeting touched on climate change, cooperation in areas of mutual concern such as food security, education and health, solidarity with the Republic of Haiti, reparations for slavery, CARICOM countries’ inclusion on the EU’s list of non-cooperative tax list, the promotion of sustainable tourism, migrants’ rights, inter alia.

Caribbean countries have been among the most vocal supporters of Cuba in the face of the illegal US embargo. The official communique concluded with a call for “the President of the United States to use his broad executive powers to substantially change the application of the blockade and the Congress of that country to proceed with its elimination”.

Ministers also acknowledged the legacies of the late former Cuban President, Dr. Fidel Castro, and former Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, who died last year, and the former Haitian President, Rene Preval who passed away last week.

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.

 

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.

De-Risking discussed at CARICOM 28th Inter-sessional Meeting

Alicia Nicholls

The issue of de-risking by global banks, manifested most prominently by the restriction or withdrawal of correspondent banking relationships with mainly indigenous banks in the Region, was discussed at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Twenty-Eighth Inter-sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of CARICOM which took place in Georgetown, Guyana February 16-17 last week.

CARICOM countries have been engaging in high-level advocacy to raise awareness of the implications of global banks’ de-risking, including the restriction and termination of correspondent banking services to mainly indigenous Caribbean banks. In the Communique released after the Inter-Sessional Meeting, it was noted that Heads of Government recognised the need for a continued regional approach and concerted action on this issue which has the potential to undermine the region’s financial systems and to cut off access to trade, investment and other financial flows, with both economic and poverty-reduction implications.

Heads of Government also  recognised the need for continued urgent action to strengthen the integrity of the financial system in CARICOM Member States and to address the perception of the Caribbean as a high-risk Region. They also commended the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Committee of Ministers of Finance for spearheading the advocacy initiatives towards resolution of the issue.

Below are the main take-aways from the Communique in regards to Heads of Government’s current and further action on the de-risking issue:

  • Heads of Government considered the Strategy and Action Plan submitted by the Committee of Central Bank Governors, and requested the Committee of Ministers of Finance with responsibility for Correspondent Financing to assume the oversight of its roll-out.
  • The Heads of Government agreed that the Region must continue its robust and unrelenting advocacy on the issue of Correspondent Banking, noting the advocacy initiatives’ success in raising international awareness of the consequences of de-risking.
  • Heads of Government encouraged Member States to seize the opportunity of heightened awareness among International Development Partners (IDPs) to secure the resources and support required to strengthen the domestic and regional financial system.
  • Heads of Government welcomed the efforts of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to assist Member States to strengthen their financial systems and partnering with multilateral financial institutions to determine solutions to the ongoing de-risking threat to the Community.
  • Heads of Government acknowledged the multi-dimensional nature of the several drivers behind the de-risking strategies being pursued by global banks, and called for a comprehensive stock-taking exercise to determine Member States’ status and ensure that national action plans are aligned with the timetable for compliance with global regulatory standards.
  • Heads of Government noted the need to strengthen Member States’ compliance with the global regulatory standards with regard to Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) and Tax Transparency Information Exchange.

More on the 28th Inter-sessional Meeting may be viewed here.

The full communique is available 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 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.

 

CARICOM and Cuba reach agreement to expand market access preferences

Alicia Nicholls

It has been a while in coming but today the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat announced in a press release that CARICOM and Cuba have finally agreed to expand the level of preferential access to each other’s markets as part of efforts to update the Cuba-CARICOM Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement.

According to the Press Release, CARICOM and Cuba reached agreement at the end of the Tenth Meeting of the CARICOM-Cuba Joint Commission established pursuant to the trade and economic cooperation agreement. This meeting took place between January 30-31, 2017 at the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana.

The Press release notes the following outcomes agreed to:

  • Duty-free entry for a number of CARICOM agricultural products and manufactured goods, such as beer and fish into the Cuban market
  • Duty-free access for Cuban goods, including pharmaceuticals, into the markets of CARICOM member states
  • More Developed Countries (MDCs) of CARICOM (Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago) will also determine the level of preference they will grant to Cuba on a number of other items.

The release also notes that exploratory discussions were held on trade in services and there has been agreement to continue the exchange of information and cooperation on services trade, particularly tourism.

The Cuba-CARICOM Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement is a reciprocal trade agreement between Cuba and thirteen member states of CARICOM. Bahamas and Haiti were not part of the negotiations. The agreement was signed in Canouan,  St. Vincent & the Grenadines. According to a Jamaican Gleaner article from July 2016, negotiations on updating the Cuba-CARICOM Agreement began in 2006 but have been protracted.

It is a partial scope agreement as it mainly covers goods trade. However, the agreement contemplates expansion towards to a full free trade agreement and has a built-in work plan which includes working towards the adoption of double taxation agreements between CARICOM member states and Cuba, to commence services  trade negotiations, to adopt an agreement on intellectual property rights, to negotiate an agreement for the protection and promotion of investment, among other things. On the latter point, Cuba already has individual bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with several CARICOM states, including Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago.

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 States raise de-risking concerns at the 71st United Nations General Assembly

Alicia Nicholls

De-risking was one of the myriad of developmental issues raised by small states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the 71st Regular General Assembly of the United Nations in New York over the past few days. The theme of the general debate of the 71st session was “The Sustainable Development Goals: a universal push to transform our world.”

De-risking practices by banks involve the avoidance of risk by discontinuing business with whole classes of customers without taking into account their levels of risk. This is in direct contradiction to the risk-based approach advocated by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The major manifestation of bank de-risking has been the restriction or termination by large banks (particularly in the US) of correspondent banking relationships with banks and discontinuing relationships with money transfer operators (MTOs).

While countries across the world have been affected by de-risking in varying degrees, a World Bank study published in 2015 found that the Caribbean region appeared to be the most affected by a decline in correspondent banking relationships. This situation is even more vexing considering CARICOM countries’ adherence to international regulations and best practices, including the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force.

Arguing that correspondent banking services are a public good, CARICOM countries launched a high-level diplomatic offensive over the past months to raise awareness and mobilise action on this serious issue. The restriction and loss of correspondent banking relationships not only threaten the region’s financial stability but also threaten to de-link Caribbean countries from the global financial and trading system, undermining their sustainable development prospects. There has, however, been limited international progress on this front despite strong advocacy and a myriad of studies on the issue by regional and international development agencies.

Singing from the same hymn sheet, CARICOM representatives consistently raised the issue in their national speeches before the UN General Assembly.  In perhaps one of the most comprehensive and impassioned statements, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, H.E. Frederick Mitchell,  made de-risking the starting point in his speech, emphasizing not only the difficulty being faced in opening accounts, but also the impact on tourism, remittance and financial flows. Calling it a “moral imperative,” he reiterated Caribbean countries’ adherence to anti-money laundering rules, while condemning the over-regulation which has had led to the de-risking phenomenon. He also termed the attacks on the Bahamas and the CARICOM region as “inaccurate and unfair”.

Touching on the sustainable development implications of de-risking, representative of Trinidad & Tobago, Senator the Honourable Dennis Moses, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM  Affairs, poignantly stated as follows:

“The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognizes that national development efforts need to be supported by an enabling international economic environment through international business activity and finance, international development cooperation, and international trade. However, the issue of financial institutions terminating or restricting correspondent banking relations in the CARICOM Region has destabilized the financial sectors of our Member States and has disrupted the Region’s growth and economic progress.”

On behalf of Trinidad & Tobago and CARICOM, Senator Moses further called on “international banks to engage collaboratively with affected Member States to restore normal financial relationships between domestic banks and international markets.”

Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, the Hon. Timothy Harris noted that “[a]lready, in the Caribbean, as of the first half of this year, some 16 banks, across five countries have lost all or some of their correspondent banking relationships putting the financial lifeline of these countries at great risk”. Highlighting Caribbean countries’ dependence on tourism and remittance flows, he further explained that “such [de-risking] actions threaten to derail progress, undermine trade, direct foreign investment and repatriation of business profits.”

Laying the blame for de-risking on “heavy-handed” FATF regulations, Prime Minister of St. Vincent & Grenadines reiterated the potential of de-risking to disconnect Caribbean countries from global finance and “a shifting of potentially risky transactions to institutions that lack the regulatory wherewithal to handle them”. He further explained that “these [FATF] regulations must be revised urgently before legitimate transactions in the Caribbean–from credit card payments to remittances to foreign direct investment–grind to a halt.”

Besides de-risking, CARICOM representatives raised several other development issues, including climate change, graduation policies of international development agencies, United Nations reform, the US embargo of Cuba, the attack on international financial centres by OECD countries and the on-going border disputes between Guyana and Venezuela and Belize and Guatemala. CARICOM states also congratulated newly elected UNGA President, Peter Thomson of Fiji, and thanked outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his service, particularly his support of SIDS.

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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