Why a UK high com­mis­sioner is ur­gent

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

ALOUN ASSAMBA is right about Ja­maica’s lag­gardly pace in ap­point­ing a new high com­mis­sioner to Bri­tain. It is seven months since the gen­eral elec­tion, which Ms Assamba’s party lost, trig­ger­ing her re­call from Lon­don.

But ur­gency for nam­ing a suc­ces­sor rests on more than hav­ing some­one in place to look after the im­me­di­ate wel­fare of the Ja­maican di­as­pora in the United King­dom (UK), which ap­pears to be the premise on which Ms Assamba is urg­ing the Gov­ern­ment to ac­tion. There are eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal mat­ters that are fun­da­men­tal to the two coun­tries that will have to be dealt with, for which Kingston can bet­ter pre­pare by hav­ing a skilled and com­pe­tent diplo­mat on the ground.

In­deed, Brexit, or the vote by the Bri­tish in their June ref­er­en­dum to leave the Euro­pean Union (EU), is a mat­ter of great im­por­tance. Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment has not yet, at least pub­licly, es­tab­lished a clear frame­work for Brexit and the spe­cific terms of the dis­en­gage­ment will not be known for at least two years after trig­ger­ing Ar­ti­cle 50 of the Treaty of Lis­bon to for­mally start the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

But Ja­maica, and the wider Caribbean Com­mu­nity (CARICOM), for which Kingston has re­spon­si­bil­ity for ex­ter­nal trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, can’t af­ford to merely flow with the events. Vi­tal in­ter­ests are at stake. Ja­maica and most CARICOM mem­bers have deep his­toric re­la­tions with Bri­tain, of which most, for up­wards of 300 years, were colonies. When Bri­tain joined the EU more than 40 years ago, most of the trade and eco­nomic part­ner­ships be­tween the UK and its ex-colonies were trans­ferred to Brus­sels in for­mal treaties, re­flected most re­cently in the Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment (EPA) be­tween the EU and the CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic).

In­ter­preted another way, Ja­maica and CARICOM/CARIFORUM have no for­mal trade agree­ment with Bri­tain. That ex­ists with the EU. While there are bi­lat­eral eco­nomic-sup­port agree­ments be­tween Ja­maica and Bri­tain, the great bulk of the UK’s as­sis­tance is via Brus­sels.

BACK OF THE QUEUE

In essence, a fair bit of dis­en­tan­gle­ment will have to take place be­tween Bri­tain and the EU and their re­la­tion­ships with third coun­tries, or group of coun­tries. The dan­ger for small coun­tries or eco­nomic group­ings like CARICOM and CARIFORUM is that they are left in the mar­gins or pushed to the back of the queue, espe­cially if they are not proac­tive.

Not only must Ja­maica and CARICOM be clear on their own agenda, but they must be aware of emerg­ing think­ing in Lon­don and Brus­sels, and in­so­far as pos­si­ble be at­tempt­ing to shape, to their ben­e­fit, the post-Brexit en­vi­ron­ment in ei­ther cap­i­tal. In the UK, for ex­am­ple, there needs to be a grasp of the ideas and emerg­ing vi­sions of crit­i­cal play­ers like David Davis, the min­is­ter with for­mal charge of the dis­en­gage­ment from Europe; Liam Fox, who is re­spon­si­ble for in­ter­na­tional trade; and Boris John­son, the for­eign min­is­ter. Ja­maica, too, should be keen on know­ing the pol­icy pri­or­i­ties of Priti Pa­tel, who now has the port­fo­lio for in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment.

Some of that work can be done re­motely from Kingston with the sup­port of staff in hold­ing po­si­tions at the high com­mis­sion. It is likely to be more ef­fec­tively ac­com­plished by hav­ing in Lon­don a well-briefed, prop­erly ac­cred­ited head of mis­sion who is skilled at build­ing re­la­tions and is sup­ported by a com­pe­tent staff.

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