Tag Archives: development

Caribbean Trade & Development Digest – April 7 – 13, 2019

Welcome to the Caribbean Trade & Development Digest for the week of April 7-13, 2019! We are happy to bring you the major trade and development headlines and analysis from across the Caribbean Region and the world from the past week.

HIGHLIGHTS

In this week’s highlights, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released a list of Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies. In response, the EU has indicated it aims to put tariffs on $12 billion of US exports.

In Brexit news, the EU granted the Theresa May UK Government a six month extension to October 31, 2019. Read more here.

Trade was a major topic looming over the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings held this week. The IMF released its April Outlook in which it noted a deceleration in global growth on the back of several factors, including rising trade tensions. Read the Outlook here. Also watch the panel discussion on “How Trade can promote growth for all” here.

The 12th Annual Update on WTO Dispute Settlement, which provided an overview and discussion on WTO dispute settlement cases and developments in 2018, was held this week. Watch the playback here!

REGIONAL NEWS

Trade between GCC, Latin America and the Caribbean hit $16.3b in 2018

Gulf News: Trade flows between GCC countries and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) reached $16.3 billion (Dh59.86 billion) in 2018, while the UAE remained a top trading partner in the Gulf region for LAC countries, according to a new report conducted by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in cooperation with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Read more 

Consumer and Business Confidence Up in Jamaica

Caribbean360: Consumer and business confidence in the economy have recorded increases for the first quarter of 2019. Read more

Jamaica deepens ties with China

Jamaica Observer: The Government yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the People’s Republic of China on that country’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to deepen cooperation and partnership between the two nations for economic development. Read more

Guatemala’s Fishing Trade Spells Trouble for Belize

The Reporter: An investigation into Guatemala’s thriving shark fishing industry reveals serious concerns for our country and fisherfolk. In February 2019, a team of investigative journalists from The Reporter traveled to southern Belize, then to Guatemala to evaluate the number and scope of sharks, fish and other marine species poached from Belizean waters and exported to Guatemala. Their findings were startling and it was discovered that this issue has deep roots. Read more 

The Dominican Republic opens plant species and variety registration office

Fresh Plaza: The Ministry of Agriculture opened the Plant Species and Varieties Registration Office (OREVADO), which seeks to guarantee the institutional framework for people who want to develop new varieties of vegetable crops, innovate in the transfer of technology or invest in production, i.e. breeders. Read more 

Dominican Republic leads Caribbean economies

Global Finance: The economy of the Dominican Republic is set to surpass its regional neighbors this year, notching the highest growth in the Caribbean region. The DR has been gaining attention for its ability to maintain steady robust economic growth. In 2018, GDP rose by 7%, and the latest report by the country’s central bank says all industries are expanding—and that its free-trade zones in particular are drawing investment. Read more

Atlantic International Bank maintains innocence in US Federal Trade Commission accusations but faces international ramifications

LoveFM: Atlantic Bank International is currently unable to process wire transfers, in and out, for its overseas customers who are in need of Belize currency. The stoppage in this service is the direct result of the Bank of New York issuing a ban against Atlantic Bank International after the US Federal Trade Commission has roped in Atlantic Bank International as an ally in the Sanctuary Bay multi-million-dollar scheme that saw several US investors lose money in a project that never came to fruition. Read more

CDB Grant Stirs Up Fuss About Regional White Sugar

Jamaica Gleaner: The April 2 announcement of a more than US$97,000 gift from the Caribbean Development Bank, CDB, to Caricom for a study on plantation white sugar has Jamaican manufacturing representatives lining up on different sides of the hot-button issue. Read more 

Govt to build nation’s quality standards system – Sutherland

Barbados Today: “Government considers this goal as urgent, and of very
high priority, in our efforts to enhance the national competitiveness of our local micro-small and medium size (MSMEs) businesses, industries and the promotion of fair trade,” he said. Read more 

CARICOM vital to regional development: Grenada’s new envoy

Caribbean News Service: CARICOM has been an indispensable force, says new envoy. Read more 

Call for Caribbean to speak out

Barbados Today: The Minister for tourism has issued a call for the Caribbean to take a defiant stand against the international community’s imposition of standards on small states – even as his own Government was racing to comply with new financial reporting rules set by a global watchdog. Read more

US report names several Caribbean nations as “major money laundering” centres

Caribbean News Now: In the latest US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), volume two dedicated to money laundering, the report lists all major Caribbean and Central American countries as “Major Money Laundering Jurisdictions” for the year 2018: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Maarten, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. Read more 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Argentine Elections Could Narrow Brazil’s Mercosur Reform Path

Stratfor: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s push to reform the trade policy of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) risks collapsing without the support of Argentina. Read more

Ambassadors pave the way for EU-US trade talks, despite French opposition

Euractiv: Europe is set to start trade talks with the US after ambassadors gave their green light on Thursday (11 April) to a proposed mandate for the European Commission to conduct the negotiations on behalf of the 28 EU member countries. Read more

EU27 is now free to hold summits without the UK

Euractiv: The EU27 will be free to hold official Council meetings and make decisions without the UK despite the country still being a member of the Union, in a move seen as a success for France’s President Macron, who led calls for the restrictions. Read more

Tokyo and Washington finally set to kick off trade talks as American farmers fume over poor Japan access

Japan Times: This week, negotiators from Japan and the United States will meet in Washington to address something that U.S. President Donald Trump considers to be long overdue: trade negotiations to open the Japanese market to more American goods. Read more

China-US trade deal could threaten Beijing’s other trading partners, IMF says

South China Morning Post: Any trade deal between China and the United States must comply with multilateral rules, as not doing so may create economic risks for the Asian nation’s other major trading partners, the International Monetary Fund said. Read more 

South Korea WTO appeal succeeds in Japanese Fukushima food dispute

Reuters: South Korea won the bulk of its appeal on Thursday in a dispute at the World Trade Organization over import bans and testing requirements it had imposed on Japanese seafood in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Read more 

China has good reasons to join Pacific Trade pact, but obstacles remain

The Strait Times: If China joined a massive Pacific trade deal, it could create hundreds of billions of dollars in extra income and spur domestic reforms, say analysts, but signing up would be far easier said than done. Read more 

China, US could win big on no-deal Brexit: UN

France24: If Britain leaves the EU without a deal, the bloc and Britain’s smaller trading partners stand to lose big, but Beijing and Washington could reap huge benefits, the UN said Tuesday. In a fresh report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) examined what repercussions it would have for Britain’s trading partners if the country crashes out of the European Union without a deal. Read more 

Commission releases detailed information on requirements for EU goods exported to the UK in case of a hard Brexit

EU: The European Commission has included in its Market Access Database detailed information on the rules that the UK would apply on its imports from the EU in the event of a hard Brexit. It is based on information made publicly available by the United Kingdom authorities. Read more

EU foreign investment screening regulation enters into force

EU: The new EU framework for the screening of foreign direct investments has officially entered into force on 10 April 2019. The new framework is based on proposal tabled by the European Commission in September 2017 and will be instrumental in safeguarding Europe’s security and public order in relation to foreign direct investments into the Union. Read more

India reduces trade deficit with China by $10 billion in FY19

CNbcTV: India’s trade deficit with China fell by $10 billion to $53 billion in FY19 on the back of lower imports, officials told CNBC-TV18. The downtick in the merchandise trade gap was also aided by new market opportunities arising out of the US-China trade war in the neighbouring nation. Read more 

India’s trade ministry says no legal basis to ban e-cigarette imports

Economic Times: India’s trade ministry says it cannot impose a ban on electronic cigarette imports as there is no legal basis for doing so, an internal government memo viewed by Reuters shows, in a boost for those looking to tap into the country’s growing vaping market. Read more 

Africa’s new free trade area faces bumpy road to full implementation

Global Trade Review: The Gambia has become the 22nd nation to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the number required for the agreement to take effect. While this marks a significant step towards the continent’s ambition to create a single market, the free trade area will face a bumpy road to full implementation. Read more 

Why no-deal Brexit could be a win for South Africa

Business Tech: A no-deal Brexit could damage smaller economies trading with the United Kingdom (UK) – but bring substantial gains for China and other trading partners such as South Africa. Read more 

A US-EU trade war would be a political and economic mistake, says French finance minister

CNBC: With global growth already slowing down, starting a trade war now between the U.S. and the European Union would be both a political and economic mistake, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday. Read more 

Brexit: UK and EU agree delay to 31 October

BBC: European Union leaders have granted the UK a six-month extension to Brexit, after late-night talks in Brussels. The new deadline – 31 October – averts the prospect of the UK having to leave the EU without a deal on Friday, as MPs are still deadlocked over a deal. Read more

EU Commission split on fertiliser anti-dumping duties

Independent: A serious spat involving two arms of the EU Commission has erupted over attempts by the fertiliser industry to have anti-dumping duties imposed on liquid urea ammonium nitrate (UAN). Read more 

EU-U.S. Trade War Escalates Over Disputed Aviation Subsidies

Bloomberg: The European Union is preparing retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. over subsidies to Boeing Co., significantly escalating transatlantic trade tensions hours after Washington vowed to hit the EU with duties over its support for Airbus SE. Read more

Report to Congress on China’s Engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean

The following is the April 11, 2019 Congressional Research Service Insight report, China’s Engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean. Read more 

EU aid increases, bucking global trend

Euractiv: Development aid spending by EU members saw a slight increase to $87 billion in 2018 (€77 billion) compared to 2017, according to new data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Read more 

WTO NEWS

VACANCY: Young Professionals Programme – Apply by April 15, 2019

The WTO Young Professionals Programme was launched in 2016 as an opportunity for qualified young professionals from developing and least-developed countries that are members of the WTO to enhance their knowledge regarding WTO and international trade issues. Read more 

WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism turns 30

The WTO marked on 12 April the 30th anniversary of the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM), which over the last three decades has contributed to ensuring and facilitating the smooth functioning of the multilateral trading system by enhancing the transparency of WTO members’ trade policies. Read more 

Registration opens for screening of second compliance panel meeting in “EC — Large Civil Aircraft”

At the request of the parties in the dispute “European Communities and Certain Member States — Measures Affecting Trade in Large Civil Aircraft: Recourse to Article 21.5 of the DSU by the European Union and Certain Member States” (DS316), the panel has decided to invite officials of WTO Members and Observers, and the general public, to view a recording of its substantive meeting with the parties and consenting third parties. The public viewing will take place at the WTO headquarters in Geneva on 13 May 2019. Read more 

DG Azevêdo: rules-based trading system is “irreplaceable” but must be ready to evolve

At a speech delivered to the Peterson Institute in Washington DC on 11 April, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo underlined the critical importance of the WTO to the stability and predictability of the global trading system. At the same time “it is clear that the WTO has to be better, faster and more responsive” to the challenges facing the organization and the system as a whole. Read more 

WTO hosts closing ceremony of Model WTO 2019

Over 70 students from around the world came to the WTO’s headquarters on 11 April for the conclusion of Model WTO 2019, a week-long simulation of WTO negotiations organized by a group of students from the University of St. Gallen with the support of the WTO. Read more

WTO establishes panel to review Turkish duties on Thai air conditioners

At a meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) on 11 April, WTO members agreed to Thailand’s request for the establishment of a dispute panel to rule on duties levied by Turkey on imported Thai air conditioners. Members also considered Russia’s request for a panel regarding European Union anti-dumping duties on Russian steel products and formally adopted the compliance panel and Appellate reports in the EU’s complaint against US subsidies for Boeing. Read more

Appellate Body issues report regarding Korean restrictions on Japanese food imports

On 11 April the Appellate Body issued its report in the case brought by Japan in “Korea — Import Bans, and Testing and Certification Requirements for Radionuclides” (DS495). Read more

WTO, IMF and World Bank leaders stress vital role of trade in reducing poverty

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo joined with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva on 10 April to argue for renewed efforts to leverage trade as a force to reduce poverty. DG Azevêdo argued that the current trade tensions could undermine recent progress in tackling poverty. “We cannot afford to go down this path,” he said. The three leaders were speaking at a joint WTO-IMF-World Bank event in Washington DC titled “Beyond Uncertainty: Leveraging Trade to Reduce Poverty”, held alongside the World Bank-IMF Spring meetings. Read more 

EU initiates WTO dispute complaint against Turkish measures affecting pharmaceuticals

The European Union has requested dispute consultations with Turkey regarding various requirements imposed by Turkey on the production, import and approval for reimbursement, pricing and licensing of pharmaceutical products. The request was circulated to WTO members on 10 April. Read more 

Trade Policy Review: Samoa

The first review of the trade policies and practices of Samoa takes place on 10 and 12 April 2019. The basis for the review is a report by the WTO Secretariat and a report by the Government of Samoa. Read more 

CTLD BLOG NEWS

Read my latest article with Dr. Jan Yves Remy, Deputy Director of the University of the West Indies’ Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy & Services exploring the issue of special and differential treatment in the World Trade Organization from a Caribbean perspective Special and Differential Treatment at the WTO: A Caribbean Perspective.

The Caribbean Trade & Development Digest is a weekly trade news digest published by the Caribbean Trade Law & Development Blog. Liked this issue? To read past issues, please visit here. To receive these mailings directly to your inbox, please follow our blog.

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Accelerating Gender Mainstreaming in CARICOM Trade Policy

Dr. Jan Yves Remy and Alicia Nicholls

While we can all agree that trade offers the potential for inclusive and sustainable growth in small Caribbean states, deployment of a successful trade strategy requires recognition and ultimately monitoring of its differentiated impacts on women and men. Despite immense strides made in empowering women, they remain under-represented in global trade and are disproportionately affected by international competition and technological changes.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019, we highlight the link between trade and gender and make the case that accelerating gender mainstreaming in trade policies of CARICOM Member States promotes not just gender equality, but inclusive growth as well.

Gender Equality and Development Nexus

Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, the international community has committed to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2030. Not only is enhancing women’s equality and economic empowerment a human right, but the removal of legal and other barriers to women’s economic inclusion has a multiplier effect in the economy due to women’s dual role as caregivers and economic actors. World Bank research has found that women invest up to 90% of their income in their families, with positive spill-overs for their communities and the economy. A recent Mckinsey Global Institute Report found that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.

Despite this compelling data, and although they account for half of the world’s working age population, women remain under-represented in international trade on account of their unequal access to factors of production and inbuilt gender biases. A recently released World Bank Report entitled “Women Business and the Law 2019” found that out of 187 countries globally, women had equal legal rights to men in only 6.

Gender and Trade Nexus

Trade policies are not necessarily gender neutral: they impact women and men differently at both the country and sectoral levels. Recognizing this, a policy of “gender mainstreaming” aims to promote gender equality by integrating gender considerations in the preparation, design, implementation and monitoring of policies.

Trade creates opportunities for women’s empowerment by creating both employment and business opportunities, but it can also alienate them. For example, while e-commerce can improve women’s access to foreign markets, increased competition through trade liberalisation can displace and marginalize women in agriculture. Because they are both caregivers and economic actors, women often have less time on average than men to engage in entrepreneurial and exporting activities. At the same time, their access to market information is often lower due to fewer networks and lower education levels. Knowing this, ex ante gender-based analysis can assist policymakers to avoid negative gender impacts of policies that they implement.

A number of international institutions have developed programmes to increase women’s inclusion in trade. For instance, the International Trade Centre (ITC) has created a She Trades electronic platform; and the World Trade Organization (WTO), at its Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference in 2017, adopted a Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. Regionally, the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s Women Empowered Through Export (We-Xport) initiative supports Caribbean businesswomen looking to export for the first time or to increase their goods and services exports.

But there is still lots to do in CARICOM. Despite the fact that CARICOM Member States are signatory to a plethora of international treaties aimed at the empowerment of women, their trade policies are to a large extent being enacted and maintained in the absence of evidence and data that is timely, comparable and sex-disaggregated. Mainstreaming gender into CARICOM countries’ trade and development policy-making would help to ensure that initiatives under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and CARICOM’s trade negotiations with third parties are gender-sensitive. It is, therefore, a welcome development that Belize’s recently launched National Trade Policy (2019-2030) incorporates gender equality as a cross-cutting issue. Another praiseworthy development is that in February 2019, it was announced that national consultations were underway on a draft CARICOM Regional Gender Equality Strategy to advance gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women and girls in each of the fifteen CARICOM Member States.

How can CARICOM Member States promote Gender Mainstreaming in Trade?

Based on the above, we recommend the following ways in which CARICOM’s trade policies may be more gender-sensitive:

  • Mainstreaming gender in the design and implementation of National Trade Policies. Belize’s new National Trade Policy can serve as a good model;
  • Gender sensitivity training of key technocrats charged with formulating, implementing and monitoring trade and economic policies and their gendered impact. Gender-based policy making and monitoring will require greater resource allocation to the agencies charged with gender affairs;
  • Enlisting the assistance of civil society and the private sector in designing trade policies and measuring their impact;
  • Increasing specific programmes in Member States’ aimed a promoting women’s entrepreneurship and export activities through capacity-building, improving their access to finance and to trade information;
  • Promoting greater inclusion of gender provisions in CARICOM’s free trade agreements (FTAs). The most far-reaching of these FTAs like the Canada-Chile and Chile-Uruguay FTAs, contain dedicated trade and gender chapters. CARICOM’s trade agreements, however, are generally sparse on gender provisions;
  • Continued lobbying of regional policy makers to honour the commitments they have made both regionally and internationally to promote gender equality, particularly their reporting and gender mainstreaming commitments.

International Aid for Trade programming is becoming increasingly gender-focused. With foreign donors increasingly making gender an important plank of their aid strategies, CARICOM governments seeking development assistance are increasingly under pressure to include gender considerations. However, gender mainstreaming is not just about ensuring CARICOM Member States meet their international treaty obligations or increase their access donor to funding. When properly implemented, gender-sensitive trade policies promote women’s empowerment, eradicate poverty and foster inclusive growth.

Dr. Jan Yves Remy is the Deputy Director of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill’s Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy & Services. Alicia Nicholls is an international trade and development consultant and contributing author to the UWI SRC’s Trading Thoughts column.

Private Sector Development in the Caribbean: A Regional Overview 2015

Alicia Nicholls

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released a report entitled “Private Sector Development in the Caribbean: A Regional Overview” commissioned by Compete Caribbean. The report discusses private sector development in the Caribbean region and is based primarily on the analysis in the Private Sector Assessment Reports (PSARs) on fourteen Caribbean countries which are available as separate reports on the website of Compete Caribbean.

A direct extract from the Report:

For the Caribbean countries as a group, 2015 will be a significantly more difficult year than the previous three, reflecting the still-challenging economic climate. The need for private-sector-oriented solutions to these nations’ longstanding challenges has never been greater.

Some of the key challenges and opportunities identified in the PSARs are:

Challenges:

  • Strained public finances
  • Cost of energy
  • Access to finance
  • Human capital, in particular inefficient labor markets and emigration of skilled labor
  • Innovation capacity

Opportunities:

  • Engagement of diasporas
  • Key measures to improve business environment
  • Improve education systems
  •  Improve firm productivity
  •  Regional approach to climate change

The full report may be accessed on the website of Compete Caribbean here. Happy reading!

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 her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

41st COTED Meeting in Georgetown Concludes

Alicia Nicholls

The CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) concluded its 41st meeting in Georgetown, Guyana last Friday, November 13. The two-day meeting was preceded by a special session with the Region’s private sector on Thursday, with representation from a cross-section of regional private sector associations, including the West Indies Rum and Spirits Association (WIRSPA), the Private Sector Association of Jamaica and Caribbean Export, among others.

COTED is responsible for the promotion of trade and economic development of the Community and consists of ministers designated by each CARICOM member state. The packed agenda centered on matters pivotal to the region’s growth and development, including the private sector, the CARICOM SIngle Market, external economic and trade relations, health and the regional investment promotion strategy.

According to the Statement by the Hon Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados,  Chair of COTED, the following comprised the key items discussed at the meeting:

  • Private Sector – The discussion focused on investment promotion, the challenges and the priorities for the business community, doing business in the Caribbean, and the successes of various private sector development interventions and how these successes may be replicated.
  • CARICOM Single Market – The implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) Application Processing System (CAPS) will begin on a phased basis next year.
  • External Economic and Trade Relations – COTED Ministers began deliberations on the regional External Trade Strategy and agenda, reviewed preparations for participation in the 10th WTO Ministerial Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in December and also received an update from Member States with regard to their progress in implementing the provisions of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
  • Health Matters – COTED Ministers recognised the need for action on confronting non-communicable diseases and their impacts on the health of the region’s workforce and their potential impacts on competitiveness. A presentation on the proposed establishment of a Caribbean Regulatory System for Medicines was considered.
  • Regional Investment Promotion Strategy – COTED Ministers recognised the completion of the Regional Investment Promotion Strategy (RIPS) and are expected to agree on a medium-term work programme for the implementation of the RIPS at the Ministerial Meeting scheduled for March 31, 2016.

The full statement by Minister McClean may be accessed on CARICOM’s website 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 read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Access to Justice as a Linchpin of the SDGs: The Sustainable Development Implications of Barbados’ Judicial Backlog

Alicia Nicholls

Access to justice has been recognised as a linchpin of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which define the post-2015 global development agenda. Much ink has been spilt on Barbados’ crippling judicial backlog but very little has been said about the implications of this status quo for meeting sustainable development goals. Access to justice, recognised in SDG 16, is both an end and prerequisite for sustainable development as it is the means by which rights and development gains are enforced and protected. As a barrier to the access to justice, Barbados’ clogged court system has not only implications for the achievement of SDG 16 but can also undermine achievement of other sustainable development goals.

Barbados has a well-deserved and internationally renowned reputation as a constitutional democracy with strong institutions, respect for the rule of law and a high level of human development which far exceeds that of many fellow small island developing states. The endemic judicial malaise has been the subject of increasing concern and critique. The latest admonishment comes from the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s final court of appeal, in its judgment in Walsh v Ward et al, a dispute which originated in 1998. In what has become all too familiar, the CCJ at paragraphs 68 to 70 of the judgment criticised the length of time the case took and the hardships this delay has imposed on the litigants. The Court also noted that its frequent need to comment on Barbados’ excessive delays reveals that this is a “systemic problem”. On these points, there can be no disagreement.

The Nature of the Problem

In 2013 it was reported that there were over 3,000 cases awaiting trial and that there were 362 cases which were still undecided, some dating back to 1993. A plethora of reasons are usually posited for Barbados ’ backlog including late court starts and short court sessions, frequent adjournments, delays in judges’ delivery of written judgments, trial scheduling issues, misplaced files and/or incorrect filing of documents, lack of client/witness cooperation and the heavy workload of magistrates and judges. There is also no fixed time period for disposal of matters. In its 2008 judgment in Reid v Reid, the CCJ suggested “as a general rule no judgment should be outstanding for more than six months and unless a case is one of unusual difficulty or complexity, judgment should normally be delivered within three months at most”. There is no evidence that this suggestion has been adhered to.  These problems are further exacerbated by an increasingly litigious Barbadian society. In the above-mentioned report, it was estimated that between 1,700 and 2,000 new cases are filed each year.

The Sustainable Development Impact

Although there has been much criticism of Barbados’ judicial backlog, very little has been said about the sustainable development implications. Sustainable development, as defined in the Brundtland Report ‘Our Common Future’, is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainable development depends on a tapestry of interconnected development issues, including poverty reduction, health and education and climate change. This diversity of issues is reflected in the 17 UN member agreed Sustainable Development Goals which succeeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Access to justice was not explicitly part of the MDGs but has been recognised by UN Member States in the post 2015 development agenda as both an end and an enabler of sustainable development. Specifically, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies For Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for All and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions At All Levels”.

Access to justice speaks to the populace’s ability to access and obtain redress through the institutions of justice in a manner that is fair, expeditious and equitable. It is fundamental to maintaining the rule of law and allows for the enforcement of rights, non- discrimination and accountability of decision makers. Judicial delays caused by a large judicial backlog limit the access to justice by ordinary citizens. Marginalised groups in society, such as the poor, elderly, disabled, children and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse are disproportionately affected by judicial delays as they endure significant economic, social and mental hardship or in the case of the elderly, sometimes die before their matter has been satisfactorily settled. Each backlogged case therefore represents at least one victim for whom justice has been delayed and whose rights have not been protected.

Judicial delays also deny accused persons, who often have to wait on remand for years before their case is heard, their constitutional and human right to a fair trial in a reasonable time. According to Prison Studies, about 40% of Barbados’ prison population consists of persons awaiting trial. A large prison population puts a strain on the public purse, resources which could be better used for social development programmes.

Access to justice is also undermined where there is no public confidence in the system. If public utterances are anything to go by, the Barbadian public appears less than satisfied with the current state of the judicial system. Persons who do not have the confidence in the judicial system are more likely to take matters into their own hands.

The current backlog not only threatens the access to justice for citizens but can hurt economic activity and thereby undermine economic development (SDG 8). Expeditious case processing and resolution are important in a commercial context where time is money. Economic and reputational costs associated with lengthy delays in the settlement of matters are problematic not just for big firms, but are even more costly for small and medium sized businesses which may lack the revenues to stay in business while awaiting a decision. Any investor seeking to do business or invest in a country wants to be assured that it has prompt access to the local courts in order to enforce contractual rights and that it will not waste resources or possibly go out of business due to inordinately long waiting times. In the Doing Business Report 2016 Barbados currently ranks poorly (164 out of 189 countries) on the efficiency of the judicial system at resolving commercial contracts before the courts. These are indicators which investors consider and have implications for Barbados’ attractiveness as a place to invest.

What is being done?

There have been numerous attempts over the years to unclog the judicial backlog problem with very limited success. Among the initiatives have been the new Civil Procedure Rules, the requirement of case management conferences, the creation of special purpose courts, the on-going removal from the computer system of “dead” cases, the addition of three more judges and the Chief Justice’s practice direction on backlog reduction. There are also more recent on-going regional initiatives like IMPACT Justice and the JURIST project which seek to address the justice system as a whole, including facilitating much needed digital access to all the Laws of Barbados and court decisions.

But are the steps far enough? Alternative dispute resolution has been proposed as a possible solution, a suggestion supported by this Author in an article in 2012. The pre-action protocols provide that parties  to a dispute must engage in “genuine and reasonable negotiations with a view to settling the claim economically and without Court proceedings”. The Court Annexed Mediation Pilot project has been unrolled in the High Court and some of the magistrates courts. However, Barbados still has no Mediation Act or a mediation board. The solutions so far have not been enough to deal with the scale of the problem. Therein lies a critical issue; what is the scale of the problem?

Official judicial data is woefully lacking on critical indicators such as time to resolution of cases before each court, the size, age and composition of the backlog in each court, the number of outstanding judgments, the average time each judge takes to render a judgment, and average stay on remand. In an effort to allow for comparative measurement of progress for countries, the UN will be developing global indicators during the next year to facilitate data gathering for each goal and target. Countries are expected to formulate their own indicators based on their own unique circumstances. Data on these indicators would provide local authorities with a comprehensive understanding of the scale, nature and causes of the backlog problem which would assist in the formulation of performance goals and the type of interventions needed. Without this any changes would simply be cosmetic.

Additionally, we the Barbadian public have heard of many judicial reform initiatives but very little on what they have achieved thus far. Progress reports on the impact of these reform initiatives should be published to help restore public confidence in the system.

An efficient and effective judicial system is essential for upholding the rule of law, safeguarding rights and ensuring the smooth functioning of democratic processes, all of which are needed for sustainable development. The long shadow of Barbados’ case backlog creates pressures on the courts, delays the process of justice and redress, particularly to the disadvantaged, and erodes public confidence in the system. Delays in the settlement of commercial cases can hamper business activity, potentially undermining economic development. Targeted interventions based on a data-supported understanding of the nature and causes of the problem are needed, while public reporting on gains made should inspire public confidence that change is on its way.

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. The Author wishes to thank everyone who provided insight for this article but any errors or omissions are solely those of the Author’s.