Tag Archives: Dominica

Caribbean leaders place spotlight on climate change at UNGA

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

Alicia Nicholls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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In defence of Caribbean Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programmes

Alicia Nicholls

A  60 Minutes Special aired by American network, CBS, on January 1, 2017 has added fuel to the fiery debate on the legitimacy of Caribbean countries’ economic citizenship programmes. Whether intended or not, the segment entitled “Passports for Sale” cast a shadow of iniquity on the programmes which certain Caribbean countries, and to which an increasing number of countries are turning in order to stimulate their economies and attract much needed foreign investment.

Last year, St. Lucia joined four other Eastern Caribbean countries: Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St. Kitts & Nevis by offering a direct citizenship programme. Economic investor programmes fall into two broad types: residency programmes (which only offer investors the right to reside) and citizenship programmes (which confer citizenship, either directly or after a period of residency).

Caribbean CBI programmes fall into the category of direct economic citizenship programmes which entitle qualifying investors and their qualifying spouse and/or dependents (e.g: children or elderly parents) to citizenship of the host country upon making a qualifying investment under that particular programme. Depending on the programme, a qualifying investment could be a monetary contribution of at least a certain amount to a special fund, the purchase of real estate of a minimum value or the purchase of government bonds in some cases. Investors and their co-applicants must also pass stringent due diligence procedures and pay the prescribed fees.

The reporting on the Caribbean CBI programmes was reduced to simply the “sale of passports” without taking into account the rationale behind the operation of these programmes. CBI programmes are not only about raising revenue through foreign investment for cash-starved Caribbean countries, but have wider development goals. These include helping to improve infrastructure, creating jobs and  attracting investors who are the “best of the best”, that is, persons with know-how and skills and networks which could redound to the benefit of the host economy. It is for this reason that an increasing number of countries, including Western countries, have either implemented economic investor programmes or are thinking of doing so.

CBI programmes not limited to small states

Indeed, missing from the CBS segment was that economic investor programmes are not unique to small countries like those in the Caribbean or the EU small state of Malta whose programme has a one-year residency requirement. Economic investor programmes are offered by a growing number of countries around the world. For example, the United States has its EB-5 Immigrant-Investor Programme where eligible investors may obtain a green card once they “make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States; and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers”. Several European countries offer Golden Visa programmes, while a number of Canadian provinces offer Provincial Entrepreneur Programs whereby qualifying investors can attain permanent residence once a qualifying investment is made.

As I argued in a recent article I wrote for Henley Partners’ Global Residence and Citizenship Review Q3 2016, once carefully managed, CBI programmes can be tools of development. A prime example is St. Kitts & Nevis, which at one point had been among the world’s most indebted countries, and has seen its economic fortunes turned around.

Focuses on missteps and not changes

The 60 Minutes Special focused almost exclusively on the missteps made under some of the CBI programmes, while comparatively little was said of the changes made to the programmes to increase the robustness of the due diligence processes. For instance, St. Kitts & Nevis undertook a revamp of its programme amidst concerns raised by the US and Canada.

The CBS 60 Minutes Special also harped on the fact that some unsavoury characters had managed to obtain passports through CBI programmes. This is regrettable, no doubt, but “shady”characters have managed to earn residency in western countries which have much greater due diligence capability than do small states. The CBS Special did not mention, for instance, that Caribbean CBI countries maintain a list of restricted nationalities. Nationals from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria are not eligible under St. Kitts & Nevis’ programme, as an illustration.

Moreover, when oligarchs from Russia and the Middle East set up homes in western countries, no one (and rightfully so) questions their intention. Yet, why is a nefarious light cast on a Russian or Middle Easterner who obtains citizenship via a Caribbean CBI programme? Why the double standard? Or better yet, why are Caribbean countries constantly being held to a higher standard? Or is it because Caribbean CBI programmes, just like our much maligned offshore financial services sectors, are one area in which Caribbean countries can actually go toe to toe with developed countries?

Growing demand for secondary passports

One of the biggest falsehoods about CBI programmes is that secondary passports are sought primarily by persons with nefarious intent or as the CBS Special put it “scoundrels, fugitives, tax cheats, and possibly much worse”. This is far from the case. The growing class of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs), which includes a growing number of persons from emerging economies, increasingly see second passports as an “insurance policy” against instability or economic uncertainty in their home countries. Moreover, simple things like travelling for business or taking one’s family on vacation can be burdensome if one comes from a country with limited visa-free access to other countries. A good quality passport, therefore, brings mobility benefits.

However, it is not only HNWIs from emerging economies which have sought secondary passports. Many, particularly those living abroad, are renouncing their American citizenship not because they necessarily want to dodge their tax duty, but because of the onerous and costly reporting requirements and the fact that American citizens may be liable to pay tax on income earned abroad to the Federal Government even if they have been resident in another country for years. Added to this, ever since the passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2010 which requires foreign financial institutions to report to the US Inland Revenue Service on assets owned by US citizens, Americans have been renouncing their citizenship in record numbers.

The demand indicators for secondary citizenship are all trending in the right direction, which is yet another reason why countries are turning to economic investor programmes. The election of President-elect Donald Trump in the US led the Canadian Immigration Department’s website to crash on election night as Americans increased online enquiries about moving to Canada, while the UK’s impending withdrawal has spurred demand by UK nationals for second EU passports.

Additionally, investors who acquire citizenship under Caribbean CBI programmes do not only come from “questionable countries”. The St. Lucia Times reported in December that among the 38 citizenships which were granted in St. Lucia, “there were seven applicants from the Middle East, three from Russia, two from Asia, two from North Africa, two from South Africa, one from North America and one from Europe.”

Attractiveness of Caribbean passports

There is also the erroneous belief that Caribbean CBI programmes’ popularity stems from their  purported corruption or because of the perceived negligible due diligence.  Caribbean passports are attractive for a multiplicity of reasons. Holders of Caribbean passports enjoy visa-free access to a growing number of countries, which tick off the mobility box for investors. The high standard of living and political stability in the Caribbean appeals to those investors in search of a lifestyle change.

CBI Caribbean countries’ citizenship laws  recognise both citizenship by birth (jus soli) and citizenship by descent (jus sanguinis) meaning that investors can pass on their citizenship to their children (born after the investor’s acquisition of citizenship) whether they are born in the host country or not.Moreover, Caribbean countries allow for dual citizenship so they do not have to renounce their current nationality.

Another factor is that the lack of residency requirement reduces the time it takes to acquire citizenship than through naturalisation. There are other factors such as Caribbean countries’ access to international business hubs through frequent flights to international gateways, their tax-friendly climates and their network of tax treaties and investment treaties with third states.

Conclusion

For the above reasons I found the CBS 60 Minutes Special’s “Passports for Sale” segment to be extremely unbalanced. I also question why except for a nominal reference to Malta at the beginning, Caribbean CBI programmes were singled out and why so much attention was devoted to some of the mishaps but little was said of the steps taken to prevent a recurrence. An online petition by One people, One Caribbean has sought to set the record straight and also calls for the retraction of the segment.

That being said, I do believe that robust and honest debate on the functioning of Caribbean countries’ CBI programmes is an important exercise once it is objective and not skewed. For example, the lack of transparency on the number of citizenship approvals granted under CBI programmes and to whom is a problem I have mentioned before. Although some countries have started to release some of their statistics, more data should be released and in a more timely manner.

What is needed as well is greater cooperation among Caribbean CBI countries. Some critics of CBI programmes raise the legitimate fears that increased competition both among Caribbean CBI programmes and with extra-Caribbean CBI programmes may lead to a race to the bottom in order to remain competitive. Perhaps what needs to be done is harmonisation of Caribbean countries’ CBI due diligence requirements so that an investor who fails the due diligence requirements of one Caribbean programme cannot gain access to another’s. Another option could be to harmonise CBI countries’ restricted countries’ lists. I am under no illusion that this would be an easy task but it is perhaps worth considering.

There is some support for greater OECS collaboration on this issue. The Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Allen Chastanet, has called for an OECS approach to CBI programmes through an OECS initiative based at the OECS Secretariat. However, it should be noted that a pan-OECS initiative may be problematic as not all OECS countries are supportive of such programmes. Additionally, CBI programmes must be free of political influence and interference.

Cooperation with the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is also needed. Non-CBI CARICOM countries have raised concerns about reputational and security implications for their own countries. Under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the broad definition of “Community National” means that an individual who attains citizenship of a CARICOM country would qualify as a community national and be entitled to those benefits.

As I argued before, CBI programmes are not a panacea. Continued monitoring and upgrading of the programmes is needed to ensure that they meet their objectives of contributing to national development, while also ensuring the strictest of due diligence standards.

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.

Dominica Ratifies WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

Dominica has become the latest Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member state to ratify the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement, according to a WTO press release. On November 28, 2016 Dominica, along with Mongolia, deposited its instrument of acceptance to the WTO. These two ratifications bring the number of WTO member states to have ratified the Agreement to 100, just 10 shy of the number (two thirds of WTO membership) needed for the Agreement to go into effect, according to the press release.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement, which was concluded at the WTO’s Bali Ministerial in 2013, aims to lower trade costs by expediting the movement, clearance and release of goods, thereby cutting red tape, and improving cross-border customs cooperation on trade and customs compliance issues. Upon the request of developing and least developed country (LDC) WTO members, a Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility  was established in 2014 to assist them with implementing and gaining the benefits from the Agreement.

The WTO expects the Agreement to  boost global merchandise exports by up to $1 trillion per year if fully implemented. As I had noted in a previous post on the Agreement, ratification and full implementation  of the Trade Facilitation Agreement by all CARICOM states could also improve Caribbean regional integration by easing transaction costs of exporting across CARICOM states. Implementing these reforms would also send a strong signal to the international business community of these countries’ commitment to improving their ease of doing business.

The following other CARICOM countries have already ratified the Agreement: Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis.

The WTO press release 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.

Economic Citizenship Programmes in the Eastern Caribbean: A Brief Look

Alicia Nicholls

In a world of eroded preferences for traditional Caribbean exports, the small island states of the Eastern Caribbean have had to find non-traditional ways to bolster their small open economies. There is growing global demand for alternative and second citizenship by mobile High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs), a phenomenon on which an increasing number of states have sought to capitalise. At the Global Citizen Forum 2015 in Monaco last week, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, the Hon. Dr. Kenny Anthony announced his country’s intention to become the latest Caribbean state to offer economic citizenship. St. Lucia will join four other Caribbean countries: St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica and Grenada which operate direct citizenship by investment programmes. This article explores the current programmes in the Eastern Caribbean and whether the offering of economic citizenship is worth the risks involved.

The concept of citizenship, that is, the status of holding the nationality of a State, is imbued with a whole package of legal, political and other rights and duties. All states of the English speaking Caribbean have citizenship on a jus soli basis, that is, the right to citizenship by virtue of being born in the territory, as well as citizenship through descent and naturalisation. Those states which offer economic citizenship stretch the notion of citizenship to give qualifying investors the right to full legal citizenship and the right to hold a passport for themselves and their families through making a qualifying investment into the local economy.

Many of these mobile HNWIs are from China, the Middle East and Russia, seeking economic and political security, a more favourable tax climate, and the benefits of hassle free travel a good second passport could bring. According to The Wealth Report 2015, “it is estimated that 76,200 Chinese millionaires emigrated or acquired alternative citizenship over the 10 years to 2013”. Additionally, the US’ system of nationality based taxation and the onerous reporting requirements under FATCA have caused many Americans living abroad to renounce their American citizenship in record numbers (1,335 in the first quarter of 2015 according to this article).

Economic citizenship and residency programmes are not unique to the Caribbean. Several countries such as Malta and Cyprus operate direct Citizenship by Investment programmes. Some countries offer Immigrant Investor Programmes which use the prospect of citizenship or permanent residence to attract highly skilled HNWIs. The US’ EB-5 visa is a prime example. Similar programmes are also offered by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Outside of this, there is a whole wealth and tax planning industry which has built up around advising HNW clients and their families on how and where they can get the best passport for their buck.

As countries known for their high standards of living, democratic principles, political stability, respect for the rule of law and healthy reputations internationally, it is little wonder several Eastern Caribbean countries have sought to leverage these pull factors and seek to get their share out of the second passport pie. The expected benefits to the host economy include foreign direct investment through purchasing real estate, funding for infrastructure development and the other economic benefits to be derived from HNWIs and their families spending in the economy.

The investor must meet the application requirements and go through stringent application procedures and invest in one of the options available which differs by country. In return, investors which take advantage of economic citizenship offered by one of those Eastern Caribbean states gets visa free travel to over 100 countries, a second passport, no requirement for residency, as well as second citizenship for themselves and their spouse and dependents. They also can take advantage of the tax benefits offered by a low tax jurisdiction, including no capital gains, wealth or inheritance taxes.

Below is a brief description of each programme:

St Kitts & Nevis – It is the oldest continuously operating citizenship by investment programme and has been in existence since 1984. Two options for investment: (1) making a non-refundable donation to the Sugar Industry Diversification Programme of a minimum of US$250,000 plus processing fees or (2) by investing in an approved real estate project worth at least US$400,000 plus registration and other costs.  While the investment in real estate is recoverable, the investor must hold the property for a minimum of 5 years. The next buyer also qualifies for citizenship. For further info: http://stkitts-citizenship.com/

Antigua & Barbuda – Three methods of investment: (1) Investment of at least US$400,000 in  an approved real estate project to be held for a period of no less than five years, (2) contribution of at least US$200,000 in the National Development Fund, (3) An investment of a minimum of US$1,500,000 directly into an eligible business as a sole investor or a joint investment involving at least 2 persons in an eligible business totalling at least US$5,000,000 and each of those persons individually invests at least US$400,000. For further info: http://cip.gov.ag/citizenship/

Dominica – Dominica’s programme requires the smallest minimum investment. Citizenship can be obtained through investment either in the Government Fund or the Real Estate Option. According to the website of the CBIU, the generated funds are utilised for public and private sector projects where a need is identified. To qualify for citizenship under the Government fund there are four investment categories with different contribution amounts, based on the number of dependents included in the application. For a single applicant, there is a non-refundable contribution of US$100,000 required. The contribution required increases where a spouse and dependents are involved. To qualify for citizenship of Dominica under the Real Estate Option under the Citizenship by Investment Program, an applicant must purchase authorized real estate to the minimum value of US$200,000 plus government fees which dependent on whether a spouse is included and number of dependents. For further info: http://cbiu.gov.dm/

Grenada – After a thirteen year hiatus, Grenada restarted its Citizenship by Investment programme in 2014. Application is by invitation only. Citizenship can be obtained by investment of a minimum of US$ 350,000 in an Approved Real Estate project plus fees and costs. The investment is subject to a minimum holding period of four (4) years. The second option is a non-refundable donation to the Island Transformation Fund which is not yet open. For further info: http://www.citizenship.gd/ 

St Lucia – St Lucia has indicated its programme will begin from January 2016 and details about the programme are not yet available.  It has stated that they expect significant economic benefits from the programme.

There is little data publicly available on the success of Caribbean CbI programmes. It would be interesting to know the number of applications received and approved on a yearly basis, the countries from which most applicants have come, and what have been the tangible benefits to the host countries. However, the IMF Staff Report  on St Kitts & Nevis noted the citizenship by investment programme in St. Kitts & Nevis, the region’s most successful CbI programme, is bearing fruit. It notes as follows:

Continued rapid inflows under the Citizenship-By Investment (CBI) program have led to a surge in construction activity, and supported a large increase in government and Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (SIDF) investments and spending, including on the People Employment Program (PEP). These factors, together with the ongoing recovery in tourist arrivals fueled rapid GDP growth of about 6 percent in 2013 and 2014.

Entangled in the notion of economic citizenship are a whole set of moral and legal issues. For one, the definition of ‘spouse’ in the legislation of these Caribbean countries still means either of a man or woman who are married to each other. In light of competition from other CbI programmes, will this definition eventually be amended to allow gay HNWIs and their spouses to take advantage of these programmes?

There are also regulatory and national security implications, including concerns about the potential use of second passports to facilitate money laundering, organised crime and terrorist activity. Of course, there are stringent screening methods, including requirements of police certificates of character. After all, all countries prefer to attract investors of good character who are self-sufficient, and willing to make a significant economic investment to the country in which they are seeking citizenship. Under the Antigua & Barbuda programme for example, a person can be deprived of citizenship in several instances e.g: fraud, conviction or failure to spend at least 35 days in Antigua & Barbuda during the period of five calendar years after his registration. There is the potential for attracting ‘undesirables’, even with a rigorous programme.

A few countries worldwide have found that the potential investment inflows were not worth the risk or they could not cope with the volume of applications. Canada cancelled its Immigrant by Investor Programme, while Hong Kong has suspended its CIES programme. Barbados has clearly stated that for policy reasons it will not go the route of economic citizenship. It currently offers the Special Entry and Reside Programme (SERP) for qualifying HNWIs and their spouses/dependants. In order to qualify as an HNWI in Barbados, the investor must have assets of at less than US$ 5 million. In spite of this, Eastern Caribbean CbI programmes not only have to compete amongst themselves but also face increased competition globally from potentially more attractive CbI and residency programmes worldwide.

Moreover, countries which offer economic citizenship programmes do open themselves to reputational risks, especially if other States have doubts about the rigor of their screening procedures. The US Treasury has accused persons obtaining St Kitts & Nevis passports for financial crime  and Canada imposed visa requirements on St. Kitts & Nevis nationals on November 22, 2014. The merits of these actions are debatable. However, these are the kinds of risks which countries operating these programmes face. Moreover, they may result in holders of those passports, including natural born citizens, being blacklisted or subject to more scrutiny by foreign jurisdictions, which may redound to more harm than good for that State and undermine the very programme itself.

In light of the foregoing, any Caribbean state considering a Citizenship by Investment programme must not only consider the possible investment inflows but weigh them carefully against the potential reputational, security and other risks, as well as the sustainability of such a programme.

Disclaimer: This article is NOT intended to provide investment advice and the Author is not accountable to anyone who relies on the information in this article. The information was taken from sources deemed to be accurate and correct at the time of publication. For further information on the respective CbI programmes stated above, please contact the relevant authorities in the respective countries.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, public international law and trade.