A weak, worn-out Caribbean will not serve its people in 2020

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Sir Ronald Sanders is Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organisation of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto.

By Sir Ronald Sanders

As 2019 ends and the New Year dawns, the world faces a troubling period of uncertainty. This precariousness will affect international and regional organizations as some powerful governments pursue a policy of de-linking from the established international system, encouraging fragmentation of regional groups and imposing their own agenda through various methods of coercion.

That process has started most glaringly in the World Trade Organization (WTO), where the dispute settlement machinery has been forced into collapse by the retirement of two of the remaining three members of the Appellate Body on December 10, and a veto by the United States of any new appointments. Now, states will have to revert to settling disputes through bilateral negotiation. No fair and equitable settlement can possibly emerge from a negotiation between a large power and a small powerless state. That’s why no big country including India has railed against it. Absent strict international rules, national power predominates.

Small countries will be especially endangered if this trend intensifies.  The rules-based international system protects them from suffocation by larger powers in a range of areas, including terms of trade; access to financing; defense and security; and the right to participate effectively in regional and international decision-making. That is why, throughout the international system, small states should form strong alliances and make common cause to protect and preserve the rules that govern international relations in all its aspects.

The big and powerful nations, whose governments are intent on establishing their own primacy by encouraging the breaking up of regional groups, will also suffer adverse consequences in the longer term. For, even the rich and powerful will suffer if the markets and states around them are poor, weak and unstable. But, few governments show concern for the longer term; instead, they are intent on satisfying their own immediate political interests and on the primacy, they can procure for their own countries.

BREXIT – the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) from the now 28-nation European Union (EU) will weaken the EU as a balancing economic and trade force against the United States of America (US), China and Russia.

The present governments of all three of these large powers have separate but common interests in dismantling the EU monolith and dealing, instead, with 28 smaller states. None of the 28, by themselves (not even Germany and France), has the capacity to bargain effectively with China and the US. And, in military terms, not even the largest of the EU countries alone can face-up to Russia.

It should be noted that the EU itself was not averse to using the combined power of its 28 states to impose its will on the weak and vulnerable, including Caribbean states. The two-decade-long war that it has waged on small countries over tax and financial matters, using trade and aid as measures to coerce them to comply with arbitrary and imposed regimes, confirmed its own readiness to effectuate its will through force. The EU is using that power by itself and through the influence that its hawkish member states exert in the 36-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which has set-up itself as the world’s standard-setting body on tax and financial services.

The actions of both the EU and the OECD have disrupted the provision of financial services in small countries, including the Caribbean, causing the loss of employment and revenues.

Regrettably, none of this shows any sign of easing as the world enters 2020. Entrenched religious prejudice, nurtured sentiments of racial superiority, ingrained craving for economic advantage and power, including claims for territorial land and sea by governments of states that adjoin others – all combine to hinder human progress that should reside in fairness and impartiality; peace and genuine respect for people; and the provision of conditions that allow for the welfare and protection of others.

Of course, these arguments are relevant to regional situations as well.  Unity and solidarity with each other, in pursuit of their common good, are often sacrificed by regional countries for immediate national gain.  Alliances are formed with an external country or countries that satisfy short term benefits but weaken regional bargaining capacity. In the Caribbean, this particular situation is one that regional governments should strive to overcome in order to achieve a more perfect union which remains the only viable means to achieve their national wellbeing.

There are many obvious ways in which Caribbean governments could work toward a more cohesive and stronger region. Trade is a blatant area: in 2018, the 14 independent nations of CARICOM suffered a trade deficit with the US of US$9 billion; the CARIFORUM countries, that include CARICOM and the Dominican Republic, had a trade deficit with the EU of US$3.5 billion. More than US$5 billion was spent on food importation alone.

If the CARICOM countries are to do better in 2020 and beyond, a resolute effort has to be made to address, on a regional basis, the ancient and persistent problem of establishing air and sea transportation; strengthening each other’s economy through trade; bargaining collectively with the rest of the world, including on financial services. They also must stop signing-up individually to demands by outside countries and begin to negotiate collectively. Nationalist adventures with third countries must also end.

The Caribbean exists within a world where internationalism is being disregarded and raw power is being exercised to rule. The region cannot disentangle itself from that world, but it must be keenly aware that the juggernaut of the powerful will not be deterred by a disunited, disorganized and debilitated Caribbean.

In 2020 and in the years beyond, it is in the interest of every nation in the Caribbean to work for greater economic equity, wider political participation, and broader cooperation to bridge differences and build trust amongst themselves.

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