Tag Archives: CARICOM

US-China Trade Tensions: What may these mean for the Caribbean?

Alicia Nicholls

On-going trade tensions between the United States of America (US) and China reached a new low point last week. Beijing cancelled upcoming trade talks with Washington in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s announcement of tariffs on a further $200 billion dollars’ worth of Chinese imports, starting September 24th. The Chinese government announced that it will retaliate with tariffs on a further US$60 billion dollars’ worth of US imports.

US-China relations have had turbulent periods throughout the years, but the Trump Presidency has taken a markedly more aggressive stance to Beijing’s purported unfair trade practices which the US President blames for China’s large merchandise trade surplus with the US, estimated to be US$375 billion in 2017.

With the US as the Caribbean region’s main trading partner and China, a growing economic presence in the region, will the Caribbean be caught in the middle of this spat between the world’s two largest economic superpowers? And is there anyway in which the region could possibly benefit?

China-Caribbean Relations

It must first be noted that Caribbean countries’ policy towards the recognition of either the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or the Republic of China (ROC – Taiwan) is fragmented. Five (Belize, Haiti, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and St. Lucia) out of fifteen Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member States still recognise Taiwan as a sovereign State. Moreover, it was only this week that China opened an embassy in the Dominican Republic after that country severed ties with Taiwan earlier. As such, not all Caribbean countries have diplomatic or economic ties with the PRC, but the majority do.

In the midst of declining US presence in the Caribbean, Beijing has sought to fill the void through mainly bilateral engagement with individual Caribbean governments. China has become an increasingly important source of foreign direct investment, government loans, and development aid and cooperation. A growing number of infrastructure projects throughout the region have been built with Chinese funding and labour. The Chinese Government has also long provided generous government scholarships to Caribbean nationals whose countries recognize the PRC.

China-Caribbean trade flows have increased and China has widened its trade surplus with the region. According to Ambassador Dr. Richard L. Bernal in his insightful book “Dragon in the Caribbean”, while Caribbean countries’ imports from China have grown “substantially and rapidly”, Caribbean exports to China have increased, but not nearly in as robust a manner. The Chinese Ambassador to Barbados has been reported as stating last week that in “the first six months of this year trade volume between Bridgetown and Beijing reached US$79.8 million”, a rapid increase.

US-Caribbean Relations

While China’s deepened economic engagement with the Caribbean is relatively recent, US-Caribbean relations with the region it considers its “backyard” or “third border” are longstanding, dating back to colonial times. The US is not just the region’s largest trading partner, but since the late 1980s many Caribbean countries have benefited from duty-free, quota-free access for most goods to the US market under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a non-reciprocal goods-only preferences programme.

The US is the major source market for Caribbean tourist arrivals, with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation reporting an estimated 14.9 million US arrivals to the region in 2017. US-Caribbean ties also manifest through the relatively large Caribbean-American diaspora which numbers approximately four million. The US is also a major (though declining) provider of foreign assistance to the Caribbean, and the Trump Administration has sought to scale back its assistance even further.

However, the Caribbean region’s geopolitical significance to Washington has diminished since the end of the Cold War, and so has the level of development assistance in recent years. The US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, which had bi-partisan congressional support, was passed in 2016 and signed into law under the then Obama administration as Washington’s attempt to re-engage with the Region. A multi-year Strategy, as required under the Act, was published in 2017.

So, what may US-China trade tensions mean for the Caribbean?

It is still too early to tell whether there will or has been any economic fall-out from the US-China tariff war so far on Caribbean economies. Most Caribbean countries are services-dependent making them generally more insulated from direct fall-out from the tariff hikes on global goods supply chains. Commodities-based economies, however, might suffer from softening commodities prices due to reduced Chinese demand.

President Trump’s calculation may be that a trade war would be more damaging to China’s economy than to the US since it exports more to the US than viceversa. This gives Beijing less American imports on which it could levy tariffs. An already slowing Chinese economy would be further weakened by reduced American demand for its products.

One possible negative consequence of any severe downturn in the Chinese economy may be a reduction in Beijing’s economic largesse in the region. But, the US economy may not be immune either. Though the US economy grew 4.2% in the last quarter and unemployment is low, these fortunes could be reversed due to Washington’s erratic trade policy and recent tax cuts. American farmers in key states are already warning about the possible impact of the tariff hikes. A downturn in the US economy could have a ripple effect on Caribbean economies, especially those dependent on US tourist arrivals. It is also worth pointing out that China is the US’ largest creditor, with a stockpile of over US$1 trillion worth of US Treasury securities. Beijing may see this as a source of leverage in this economic war, but a mass sell-off by China of its US debt could also backfire.

Another possible channel of impact for Caribbean countries could be in the financial markets. Spooked by these trade tensions, investors may revert to less risky investment options, which may make bonds issued by emerging economies, like those in the Caribbean, less attractive, and also affect currency markets. Additionally, any downturn in the global economy precipitated by softening global demand due to the rising trade tensions and reduced investor confidence could have a ripple effect on the small open economies of the Caribbean. In its recently released Interim Economic outlook, the OECD warned that new restrictive trade measures were already impacting global trade flows, resulting in a slowdown in global trade volume growth in the first half of 2018.

An upside to the US-China trade tensions, and this may already be playing out, is that Chinese exporters, faced with these high tariffs in the US market, will be looking at alternative markets for their goods. In light of Washington’s anti-China stance, Chinese firms may also seek out more investment-friendly climates in which to invest. In this case, the Caribbean also hypothetically stands to benefit.

It should be noted as well that China increasingly sees itself as having similar interests to the Caribbean, and also as an ally to the region in multilateral fora. This week the Chinese government noted that it plans to step up its multilateral cooperation with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), to help protect the integrity of multilateral institutions which have been increasingly under attack from the current unilateral stance taken by the Trump administration. WTO reform is one area in which China and the Caribbean could potentially collaborate, although China’s status as a developing country is one of the sore points for some WTO members, including the US.

There may also be greater opportunities for Caribbean countries to meaningfully increase exports to China. However, this is easier said than done. Caribbean firms looking to export to, or invest in China, will need to overcome barriers to market access and penetration, which are not just legal/regulatory in the form of non-tariff barriers, but also linguistic and cultural.

One way in which these barriers may be mitigated is by tapping into those persons who have knowledge of the Chinese market and culture. A growing number of Caribbean nationals have benefited from Chinese government scholarships. These persons not only speak the language, but know the culture and may have built up lasting contacts there. They could be employed as trade and investment liaisons in their countries’ diplomatic missions in China and their expertise used during trade shows to China. Local chambers of commerce, trade and investment promotion agencies, and individual firms looking to scope out the Chinese market, should also view these persons as useful sources of insights on the Chinese market and sources of contacts for exploring possible joint ventures and partnerships as market entry strategies.

Notwithstanding, it is still too early to state definitively what impact the current US-China trade tensions will have for the Caribbean region. As such, Caribbean leaders and the business community should continue to monitor the situation closely, looking for ways to mitigate any possible channels of impact, but also areas where opportunities may arise.

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

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The Golding Report Adopted by Jamaica Government: What Next?

Alicia Nicholls

Last week the Report of the Commission to Review Jamaica’s Relations within the CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks, commonly referred to as the “Golding Report” after the Commission’s distinguished Chairman, the Honourable Bruce Golding, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, was debated and adopted by the Jamaica House of Representatives. We now finally have some idea of what is the official position by the Government of Jamaica on the report which was commissioned by the Most Honourable, Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica and completed nine months later in March 2017.

Initial fears that the report would serve as the basis for a Jexit (Jamaica’s exit from the CARICOM), akin to the country’s withdrawal from the West Indies Federation in 1961, have been allayed somewhat. Official statements from the Jamaican Government do not evince an intention to leave CARICOM and the Government appears convinced, at least for now, that the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) is the best raft for navigating increasingly uncertain global economic and policy waters.

The 51-page report sought to examine Jamaica’s relations within CARICOM and CARIFORUM, but has presented another opportunity for introspection by CARICOM leaders and other stakeholders on what has been achieved, where we have failed and what is needed to move forward. The fact that consultations were held with persons not just from Jamaica, but also from across the wider CARICOM shows that the Report was not solely insular in focus.

The Holness Government has indicated that it would not push for the five-year deadline for full CSME implementation recommended by the Report, calling the timeline “unrealistic”. Instead, Mr. Holness stated that the Government would “get commitments from the various heads for the full and effective implementation of the Common Market, which are things that we can do within the five years.”

The Holness Government has also thrown its support behind a review of the CARICOM contribution scale of fees payable to the Secretariat and other bodies. Jamaica is currently the second largest contributor (23.15%) and is working to reduce its arrears of just under $500 million. Jamaica is not the only Member State to owe arrears, but the lack of information on the level of arrears owed by Member States was one of the transparency issues raised in the report.

In his contribution to the debate on the Report in the Lower House, Mr. Holness further noted that some of the report’s thirty-three recommendations were more immediately implementable than others, and there was need for some flexibility. The Leader of the Opposition, PNP Leader, Dr. Peter Phillips, also supported the report.

Disappointingly, there has been no public reaction by CARICOM leaders to the report so far, aside from the comments made by Prime Minister of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Dr. the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves. No reference was made to the Report in the Communique from the 29th Intersessional Meeting, but the report is likely to be one of the agenda items at the upcoming 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) carded for July 4-6 in Jamaica.

At the two-day Stakeholder Consultation on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) held at the Ramada Princess Hotel in Georgetown, Guyana June 8-9, the Honourable Bruce Golding, who was one of the presenters, noted that the CARICOM Secretariat was not to blame for the implementation deficit.

The Jamaica Government should be lauded for this effort. The Report, which has been the most comprehensive report on CARICOM since the Ramphal Commission’s Time for Action Report of 1992, also addresses issues such as transparency, financing and accountability. The report’s recommendations, most of which are not new, are however, far-reaching. Among the more novel recommendations are the proposed establishment of an Office of an Auditor-General, a Central Dispute Settlement Body, and greater involvement of the private sector.

More could have been said in the Report about ensuring buy-in by future generations by increasing youth participation and engagement in the regional integration process, such as through the expansion of the CARICOM Young Ambassadors Programme, the establishment of a CARICOM Young Professionals Programme at the CARICOM Secretariat or across its institutions, or at least providing greater opportunities for young persons to see first hand the work of the Secretariat through internships.

Like the many reports and studies before it, the Golding Report presents an important opportunity for conversation and dialogue, but talk must be parlayed to action. Jamaica will assume chairmanship of the Conference of Heads of Government under its rotational system from July 1-December 31, 2018, and Mr. Holness will have an opportunity within his six month chairmanship to hopefully influence how much attention is paid to the report and its recommendations, and what should be the next steps.

It is hoped that the Golding Report will not suffer the fate that so many previous studies on CARICOM suffered, that is, being relegated to “File 13”. The report should provoke serious introspection about whether the CSME is really what we want. What concrete steps are we willing to take to implement the commitments made under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas?

Leaders of CARICOM countries must not just be willing to make commitments but be champions for their implementation domestically. The election result in Barbados, which under the quasi-cabinet has lead for the Single Market (including Monetary Union), presents some cause for hope. The new Prime Minister, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, has taken a more pro-integration stance than seen in the previous administration, and one of her first acts was to remove the visa requirement for citizens from Haiti, which is not yet a CSME participatory but is a CARICOM Member State.

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

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

Alicia Nicholls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Golding Report on CARICOM-Jamaica Relations Tabled in Jamaican Parliament

Alicia Nicholls

The long-awaited report of the CARICOM Review Commission chaired by former Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, has been tabled in the Jamaica Parliament by Prime Minister, the Most Excellent Andrew Holness, O.N. The CARICOM Review Commission, which was commissioned by Mr. Holness in July 2016 to review Jamaica’s relations within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) frameworks,  submitted its report in April 2017.

For those who may have feared that the Review was intended to pave the way towards a Jamxit (Jamaica exit from CARICOM), these have been allayed to some extent. In giving its support for regional integration, the Golding Commission noted that “the value of regional integration…is as relevant and useful and perhaps, even more urgent today than it was at [CARICOM’s] inception”. However, it lamented the limited progress on many of the commitments signed on to by CARICOM Member States.

In this vein, the Commission made thirty-three timely, pertinent and wide-ranging proposals aimed at addressing the structural and organisational deficiencies in CARICOM. Many of the Commission’s recommendations include things which most CARICOM Member States have already committed to under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy but have yet to be fully realised, while others are reminiscent of those made by the Ramphal Commission in its A Time For Action Report in 1992.  Other recommendations were more novel and include instituting sanctions for wilful non-compliance with commitments made, as well as the establishment of a Central Dispute Settlement Body similar to that of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which would offer non-judicial options for settlement of disputes.

The Commission also recommended that Jamaica establish closer ties with Northern Caribbean countries, namely the Dominican Republic and Cuba, including in the negotiation of trade agreements with third States.

To address CARICOM’s implementation deficit, the Golding Commission has called for time-bound commitments and public progress reports on  Member States’ advancement towards meeting the various commitments. It also called for greater engagement of the private sector and the people of CARICOM.

Failing commitment by Member States to make the commitments outlined in the report, the Commission recommended that Jamaica should withdraw from the CSME, but remain a member of CARICOM.

The full report may be viewed here.

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

 

 

Mexico and CARICOM agree new areas for technical cooperation

Photo credit: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joint Declaration of the CARICOM-Mexico Summit may be accessed here.

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

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.

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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