Caribbean ill-pre­pared for Pres­i­dent Trump

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil. Email david.jes­sop @caribbean-coun­

DIS­POS­SESSED BY economic glob­al­i­sa­tion, faced with grow­ing economic in­equal­ity, and want­ing change, the peo­ple of the United States have elected Don­ald Trump to be their pres­i­dent.

In do­ing so, they voted for the un­known, for rhetoric that may or may not be met by com­men­su­rate ac­tion, and for a man with­out political or mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence.

In his cam­paign, Mr Trump skill­fully ex­ploited what has be­come known as post-fac­tual pol­i­tics. This is the prac­tice whereby some­one in, or run­ning for, high of­fice, speaks un­truths, draws fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect con­clu­sions, makes as­ser­tions, pro­vides no pol­icy de­tails, and has no con­sis­tent phi­los­o­phy.

The in­fer­ence was that US voter anger and sen­ti­ment ex­isted to be ren­dered not into prac­ti­cal al­ter­na­tives, but used to drive a be­lief that the in­di­vid­ual, in this case Mr Trump, has the abil­ity and knows best how to trans­form the lives of vot­ers.

Since his elec­tion vic­tory, Mr Trump has been emol­lient.


The first test of his in­ten­tions, how­ever, will come in his choice of Cab­i­net and se­nior ad­vis­ers. But of much greater sig­nif­i­cance will be hear­ing how the pres­i­dent-elect in­tends meet­ing his do­mes­tic agenda, the area where his sup­port­ers ex­pect rapid change, and the con­se­quent impact his ap­proach may have on US ex­ter­nal trade pol­icy.

For him, the strong re­cov­ery of the US econ­omy and the US national in­ter­est is paramount. If he is to de­liver, he must fo­cus not just on build­ing in­fra­struc­ture, but on find­ing ways that cre­ate higher-value employment. He will also have to cre­ate low-skilled jobs in the old and dying econ­omy of the rust belt in ways that make economic sense at a time when other na­tions are mov­ing to au­toma­tion and ro­bot­ics.

This sug­gests that an early pri­or­ity for Mr Trump will be to pro­tect the US econ­omy through a re­pu­di­a­tion of the world trade sys­tem, if it does not ac­cept his think­ing, and to per­haps bring about some form of economic con­fronta­tion with China.

If the new pres­i­dent is true to his word, and the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment, the US’s tra­di­tional al­lies, and real pol­i­tick do not re­strain him, his pol­icy will be iso­la­tion­ist and pro­tec­tion­ist and un­bur­dened by ide­ol­ogy. His words would also ap­pear to mean the rewind­ing of economic history and that US for­eign, se­cu­rity, and trade pol­icy will have to change ac­cord­ingly.

Judg­ing from what Mr Trump has said pre­vi­ously, he sees lit­tle value in try­ing to change other coun­tries’ sys­tems. For him, re­la­tion­ships are about win­ning, and ex­tract­ing the max­i­mum economic value for the US. As an ag­gres­sive deal maker, he places value on strong, au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­er­ship, a huge defence bud­get, and the de­ci­sive use of mil­i­tary might only when ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. He is adamant that other coun­tries will in one or an­other way have to pay their way if they ex­pect US sup­port.

If a Trump pres­i­dency were to be con­sis­tent with the ap­proach that he out­lined dur­ing his cam­paign, one can see many prac­ti­cal prob­lems emerg­ing for the Caribbean and Latin Amer­ica.

His stated in­ten­tion to make Mex­ico pay the United States to se­cure its bor­ders from flows of il­le­gal His­panic mi­grants ap­pears likely to pose the most im­me­di­ate chal­lenge. If it hap­pens, it may cause hemi­spheric group­ings like the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Amer­i­can States (OAS) or the Com­mu­nity of Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean States (CELAC) to have to take a po­si­tion, po­ten­tially pit­ting the rest of the hemi­sphere against the US.

Mr Trump has also in re­cent months been highly crit­i­cal of Venezuela and Cuba. He has made clear, in Cuba’s case, that he would want a trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ship.

He in­tends, he said, to “make it rough ... un­til a re­ally good deal can be made for the Cuban peo­ple, and for the United States”.

“We have to make a deal that’s good for the Cuban peo­ple and I would make sure that the deal is ei­ther made, or I’d have noth­ing to do with them,” he told a Mi­ami ra­dio sta­tion just a few days be­fore be­ing elected. It is a propo­si­tion Ha­vana is un­likely to re­spond well to.


If true to his word, within days of tak­ing of­fice, he will, by ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion, at­tempt to tear up the re­cently rat­i­fied global agree­ment on cli­mate change, a text of ex­is­ten­tial im­por­tance to the Caribbean. It will be a de­ci­sion that will re­quire the re­gion to re­act.

He has also said that he will aban­don ex­ist­ing trade deals. If he is gen­uinely in­tent on do­ing this, it is not hard to see his ad­min­is­tra­tion mak­ing de­mands for ac­cess for US goods and ser­vices on the ba­sis of rec­i­proc­ity. It is also pos­si­ble that tax penal­ties would be levied on those US man­u­fac­tur­ers who have off­shored their man­u­fac­tur­ing or as­sem­bly plants into lo­ca­tions like the Caribbean to take ad­van­tage of a more favourable tax en­vi­ron­ment.

One might also imag­ine a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­press­ing con­cern about China’s grow­ing and cen­tral role in in­vest­ment to ac­cess the US mar­ket in man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vices in the Caribbean re­gion.

Trans­lated into Caribbean terms, other as­pects of his pro­fessed ap­proach may mean that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will re­quire the Caribbean to fully meet the costs of its own se­cu­rity, for ex­am­ple, guar­an­tee­ing the safety of US vis­i­tors. More pos­i­tively, how­ever, Mr Trump un­der­stands tourism and real es­tate de­vel­op­ment, and it may be that this will be the pos­i­tive op­tic through which he and his ad­min­is­tra­tion come to view the Caribbean.

Ear­lier this year, this col­umn ob­served that the elec­tion of a Pres­i­dent Trump would have clear im­pli­ca­tions for the Caribbean. It noted that the re­gion has be­come used to the global sta­tus quo that has emerged since the Sec­ond World War; the rules-driven trade sys­tem at the WTO; mul­ti­lat­eral treaties; and or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the UN, which have given even the small­est coun­tries a global voice, based on a recog­nised need for con­sen­sus.

It is worth re­peat­ing that if the US pres­i­dent-elect is in­tent on de­liv­er­ing even a part of his stated pol­icy, the Caribbean is ill-pre­pared to ad­dress his brand of 21st-cen­tury pol­i­tics.


Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump shake hands fol­low­ing their meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice of the White House in Washington last Thurs­day.

David Jes­sop


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