Tag Archives: news

WTO launches its new World Trade Statistical Review

Alicia Nicholls

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) launched its new annual flagship statistical publication, the World Trade Statistical Review yesterday. According to the WTO’s press release, this new report replaces the WTO’s previous annual statistical publication, International Trade Statistics, which was published each October. The new report will be published online in July each year and a printed report will be available from September.

In his foreword to the report, Director-General of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo notes that “[t]he new structure of the publication allows for more comprehensive information about trade and trade policy developments to be provided, and in a more timely way.”

In addition to statistical compilations, this current report includes a discussion on trends in global trade over the past 10 years, discussions on merchandise trade and commercial services, global and regional trading patterns. An addition is the detailed analysis of developing countries’ participation in global trade, including Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Among its findings are that the value of both global merchandise and commercial services trade are nearly two-times greater in 2015 than in 2005 but declined in 2015 compared to 2014. Although developing country merchandise trade declined in 2015, their commercial services exports saw a robust increase. The report also mentions the increase in the overall stockpile of restrictive measures, including trade remedies, introduced by WTO members in 2015.

The WTO’s press release may be viewed here.

The full report may be accessed here.

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

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De-risking and its Foreign Trade Impact in the Caribbean

Alicia Nicholls

A few weeks ago I had the honour and pleasure of presenting on the Foreign Trade Impact of De-Risking at the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (ICAC) 34th Annual Conference in beautiful Belize as part of a panel discussion along with Dr. Trevor Brathwaite, Deputy Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and Mr. Filippo Alario, Chief Risk Officer of Belize Bank.

Alicia Nicholls ICAC 2016 Belize

Alicia Nicholls  at ICAC 2016 Photo compliments of R Mohammed

I wish to again express my gratitude to ICAC for the invitation and to all stakeholders and everyone who kindly provided me with information and assisted me in my research.

Some of the key points from the presentation were as follows:

  • De-risking is a business decision but with serious implications for Caribbean foreign trade.
  • As small open economies, Caribbean countries are highly dependent on foreign trade as evidenced by their high trade to GDP ratios which range between 70-130% of GDP, according to World Bank data.
  • Several Caribbean countries are among the most dependent in the world on remittance-inflows.
  • Bank de-risking threatens the region’s integration into the global trade and financial systems and has implications for economic growth, stability, employment.
  • Disruptions to remittance and FDI flows by de-risking also have poverty alleviation and sustainable development implications.
  • Cross-border payment for goods via wire transfer and remittance sending appear to be the most affected from a trade perspective.

Several persons  have written me requesting a copy of the full presentation. It is available below:

ICAC_Presentation_2016_ANicholls(1)

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.

37th Regular Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference Concludes

Alicia Nicholls

Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held their 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government last week, July 4-6 in Georgetown, Guyana. The Heads of Government paid tribute to, and highlighted the contribution of the former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Mr. Patrick Manning who passed away two days before the conference. Mr. Manning, a strong proponent of the regional integration project, was praised, inter alia, for displaying “the finest qualities of regionalism” and for having an “unswerving commitment to building his country and the wider CARICOM”.

The major topics on the agenda included regional security, the CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME), facilitation of travel within the Community, correspondent banking, information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) and border disputes.

Below is a synopsis of some of the major decisions to which the HoGs agreed:

  • Agreement to host a Global Stakeholder Conference on the Impact of the Withdrawal of Correspondent Banking on the Region
  • Decision to reconstitute the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Cricket with the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as the Chairman
  • A mandate that the CARICOM Secretariat convene a meeting of Chief Immigration Officers, CARICOM Ambassadors, and other relevant officials by 30 September 2016, in order to address the challenges being experienced by Community nationals travelling throughout the Region.
  • Endorsement of the Action Plan for Statistics in the Caribbean  which seeks to strengthen national statistical systems, inter alia.

In regards to Brexit, the HOGs “agreed that CARICOM should continue to monitor developments as the exit process unfolded and underlined the importance of a common and structured approach that married the technical, political and diplomatic”.

The Heads of Government also met with specially invited guest, Her Excellency President Michelle Bachelet of Chile. The HoGS expressed satisfaction with the ongoing process of normalisation of US-Cuba relations but took the opportunity to renew their call for the US to lift the economic and trade embargo against Cuba.

The full communique may be viewed here.

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

Caribbean Weekly Trade & Development Digest – February 28 – March 5 2016

These are some of the major trade and development headlines and analysis across the Caribbean region and the world for the week of February 28- March 5, 2016 :

Regional

Biofuel Manufacturer to invest US$95 million in Jamaica plant by 2017

South Florida Caribbean News: As renewable energy demands increase globally, biofuel developer Benchmark Renewable Energy LLC has officially announced plans to develop a large scale bio-ethanol operation in Jamaica. Read more

Barbados passport tops Caribbean passports in ease of visa-free travel

Caribbean Trade Law & Development: Barbados has the best passport among Caribbean countries. This is according to Henley & Partners’ recently published Visa Restrictions Index 2016 in which Barbados has topped Caribbean countries in the ease of which its citizens/passport holders can cross international borders. Read more

US airlines sign up for commercial flights to Cuba

CNN Money: American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue have all submitted applications to the U.S. government to fly commercial flights to Cuba. Read more

T&T facing downgrade by Moody’s Investors

Trinidad Express: For the second time in two years, Trinidad and Tobago is facing a downgrade by international credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service. Read more

Strike hits Guyana’s sugar industry

Caribbean360: A day after declaring that Guyana’s first crop sugar target was on track to be met, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has been hit by strike action. Read more

Barbados & St. Lucia Negotiating Agreement

CARICOM Today: The Governments of Barbados and St. Lucia have decided to proceed to the negotiation and conclusion of an agreement establishing the maritime boundary between the two States. Officials from the two States met in Barbados from March 1 to 4, 2016 and prepared the draft text of a maritime boundary delimitation agreement. Read more

International

India files dispute against the US over non-immigrant temporary working visas

WTO: On 3 March 2016, India notified the WTO Secretariat that it has initiated a WTO dispute proceeding against the United States regarding measures imposing increased fees on certain applicants for two categories of non-immigrant temporary working visas into the US, and measures relating to numerical commitments for some visas.  Read more

Commodity prices signal market bottom

Financial Times: When news of the highest crude stocks since the Great Depression hit oil traders’ screens on Wednesday, those expecting another rush of sell orders were in for a surprise. Read more

Paraguay becomes second South American nation to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement

WTO: Paraguay has become the second South American nation to ratify the WTO’s new Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Eladio Loizaga, Paraguay’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented his country’s instrument of acceptance to WTO Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun on 1 March. Read more

EU, Canada Revise Investment Protections in Trade Deal

ICTSD: The EU and Canada announced on Monday that they have revised the investment protection terms in their bilateral trade pact, with the new version now including an investment court system that Brussels is hoping to pursue in other trade agreements – including with the US. Read more

Barclays Africa ‘s trade finance future uncertain

Global Trade Review: Barclays Africa’s trade and export finance future will be in the hands of the bank’s next majority shareholder after Barclays reduces its 62.3% stake to around 20% over the next two to three years. Read more

US Imposes 266 percent tariffs on some Chinese steel imports

Wall Street Journal: The Department of Commerce Tuesday imposed preliminary duties on imports of cold-rolled steel, used to make auto parts, appliances and shipping containers, from seven countries including China, whose steelmakers were slapped with a massive tariff. Read more

Recent Articles: Caribbean Trade Law & Development Blog

US President Obama’s Trade Agenda – 2016

Barbados’ Passport Tops Caribbean Passports in Ease of Visa-free Travel

For past issues, please visit 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.

Jamaica tops Anglophone Caribbean on ease of doing business in Doing Business Report 2016

Alicia Nicholls

Jamaica can boast of being ranked as the easiest place to do business among countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2016. Jamaica has an overall rank of 64 out of 189 economies surveyed in the report, improving seven places from a ranking of 71 last year. Jamaica was not only the highest ranked of the English speaking Caribbean countries but was second only to Puerto Rico (57) out of all Caribbean countries. Jamaica was also the only Caribbean economy ranked among the ‘top 10 improvers’ in terms of performance on the Doing Business indicators in 2014/2015.

Now in its 13th year of publication, the 2016 edition of the Report entitled ‘Measuring Regulatory Quality and Efficiency’ ranked 189 economies globally on the ease of doing business based on 10 indicators which measure and benchmark regulations which pertain to local small to medium-size enterprises throughout their life cycle. The indicators were: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Although presented in the economy profiles, labor market regulation indicators are not included in the aggregate ease of doing business ranking this year.

On two of the indicators Jamaica ranked among the top 10 economies globally, namely ‘ease of starting a business’ (9) and ‘getting credit’ (7, tied with Puerto Rico). Its lowest rankings were in regards to ‘trading across borders’ (146), ‘paying taxes’ (146) and ‘registering a property’ (122).

Several reforms introduced by Jamaica during the 2014/2015 period were deemed to have made business easier including, streamlining internal procedures for starting a business,  implementing a new workflow for processing building permit applications, by encouraging taxpayers to pay their taxes online, introducing an employment tax credit, just to name a few. However, the introduction of a minimum business tax, the raising of the contribution rate for the national insurance scheme paid by employers and increased rates for stamp duty, the property tax, the property transfer tax and the education tax were viewed less favourably.

The average ranking of Caribbean economies on the ease of doing business was 104. After Jamaica (9), the next three top regional performers were St. Lucia (77), Trinidad & Tobago (88) and Dominica (91). Haiti had the lowest rank among CARICOM countries (182), followed by Grenada (135) and St. Kitts & Nevis (124). Of note is Barbados which slipped 3 places from 116 in last year’s ranking to 119 in the 2016 ranking, making it the fourth lowest ranked CARICOM economy by ease of doing business. In regards to the region as a whole, the Report commended the region’s continued “remarkable progress” on reforms to resolve insolvency, including the new insolvency laws adopted by Jamaica and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

It should be noted that although no Caribbean country made it into the top 50 economies on the list, the region did well compared to most SIDS globally, with the notable exception of Mauritius which ranked a laudable 32. On average the Caribbean region ranked highest on ‘getting electricity’ (74), ‘starting a business’ (87) and ‘enforcing contracts’ (90), while scoring lowest in ‘registering property’ (144), ‘resolving insolvency’ (114), ‘paying taxes’ (112) and ‘getting credit’ (112). However, individual countries’ performance on each of these indicators showed great variance.

While it has its limitations, the Doing Business Report, a flagship report of the World Bank, remains one of the best comparative measures of countries’ business environments. After all, it touches on many of the indicators which companies consider when seeking to invest in a foreign market. As such these rankings are and should be used by countries across the region as a guide to measure the success of their regulatory reforms, identify strengths and weaknesses of their business environments, and compare their countries’ business environment ranking regionally, globally and over a time period as they compete which each other for global investment inflows. While Jamaica’s over all performance is praiseworthy, what these rankings demonstrate is that there still remains great room for improvement if Caribbean countries are to become globally competitive as choice destinations for doing business.

The full Doing Business 2016: Caribbean States Regional Profile may be accessed here, while the full Doing Business Report 2016 is available here.

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

Grenada leads the way by abolishing criminal libel – We all should follow suit

Alicia Nicholls 

The big legal news rippling across the Caribbean Sea this week is the revelation that the Tillman Thomas government in Grenada has made history by being the first Commonwealth Caribbean territory to abolish criminal defamation and thus bring its libel laws, at least on this front, in conformity with the exigencies of a twenty-first century democracy.

According to the International Press Institute (IPI), Grenada’s Criminal Code (Amendment) Act of 2012 abolished sections 252 and 253 of the Grenada Criminal Code which imposed criminal sanctions for libel. The repeal was a big victory for the International Press Institute which has been ardently campaigning for the abolition of criminal defamation in all Commonwealth Caribbean States, advocating instead the reliance on civil actions exclusively. Seditious libel however still remains on the books as a criminal offence under s 357 of the Criminal Code. For a full background on the work of the IPI on this front, see here.

Freedom of the press is held to be one of the central tenets of a functioning liberal democracy. The rationale behind press freedom is that a robust and independent press keeps public officials in check by informing the populace of their actions, calling them out on their shortcomings, while also providing information which would allow the public to make informed decisions in their own interest. However, the existence of antiquated defamation laws on the statute books of Commonwealth Caribbean countries has led many to criticize these vestiges of the colonial era as fetters on the efficacy of the fourth estate in scrutinizing our public officials, and thereby serving as a barrier to true democratic governance.

The zeal with which Commonwealth Caribbean territories have tended to cling to our pre-independence laws has been heavily criticized, but in the case of our libel laws, the situation becomes even more perplexing. While it is accepted that a delicate balance must be maintained between the much deserved need to protect a person’s reputation and the equally deserved right of the public to access information, the harshness of Commonwealth Caribbean countries’ libel laws can be contrasted with the iniquitously broad freedom of expression privileges granted to parliamentarians on the floor of parliament under the convention of parliamentary privilege.  Is the freedom of speech of parliamentarians therefore more valuable than that of those whose role is to serve as the watch dogs of our post-independence democracies?

Defamation legislation throughout the Commonwealth Caribbean ranges in vintage from semi-modern to archaic acts dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.  With sluggish statutory change, if any, it has been up to the common law to adapt the laws of defamation to the needs of modern twenty-first century democracies. The defence of qualified privilege is one which has not generally found much success in case law before the landmark House of Lords decision in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Limited [2001] which recognized the duty of the press to communicate to the world at large and also recognised a public interest defence which commentators have called the “Reynolds defence”. In Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead further clarified the Reynolds defence by giving some guidance on the factors to be taken into consideration when deciding whether the defence of qualified privilege applies.

Criminal libel prosecutions remain alive and well in the Caribbean, although their frequency varies according to territory. In the recent Grenadian case of George Worme and Grenada Today v Commissioner of Police of Grenada (2004) which had been referred to the Privy Council, Lord Rodger importantly rejected submissions by counsel that then section 258 was too narrowly drafted to allow for the raising of the Reynolds defence. However, the court also regrettably held that criminal libel  was “a justifiable part of the law of the democratic society in Grenada”. Rulings such as this reinforce the cloud of fear hanging over regional journalists in execution of their ‘watch dog’ function.

Penalties for criminal libel vary across the region. Before its abolition, section 252 of the Grenada Civil Code provided that the penalty of conviction for negligent libel was imprisonment for six months, while two year imprisonment existed in the case of intentional libel. The Barbados Defamation Act (Cap 199) of 1997, one of the more ‘modern’ acts,  is a bit more lenient at Article 34(3) as it gives the Court the discretion to impose a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.Despite the talks and promises of libel reform decades after many of us have achieved independence, our journalists still have the risk of criminal prosecution as an ‘occupational hazard’ of their profession. It is little wonder therefore that self censorship by media houses is endemic in several Commonwealth Caribbean states, including Barbados. It is a practice which, though done to shield these entities from prosecution, is contrary to the public interest.

Moreover, stringent libel laws have tended to make the constitutional guarantee of right to access to information virtually nugatory, particularly where freedom of information acts do not exist. In Barbados, the proposed Freedom of Information Act which was supposed to buttress the constitutional guarantee of right to access to information under section 20 of the Constitution of Barbados by, inter alia, providing greater public access to information held by government bodies, has not yet been passed and neither have the proposed defamation reforms. On the contrary, the UK, from whom our defamation laws were inherited, abolished criminal libel and sedition per section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and is currently in the process of passing a new Defamation Act (currently HL Bill 41) which is aimed at modernizing that country’s defamation laws.

In countries which pride ourselves as democratic states, it is high time that we purge our statute books of these archaic and anti-democratic laws. As seen in Grenada, this is not a move most politicians would make without strong lobbying by local, regional and international civil society.  Despite this, Grenada’s big step towards the complete removal of criminal defamation should be applauded and one can only hope that other post-independence Commonwealth territories, including Barbados, would follow suit in the interest of greater democracy.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at@LicyLaw.

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