CARICOM-US re­la­tions: Over­look­ing our con­nec­tions

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - El­iz­a­beth Mor­gan El­iz­a­beth Mor­gan is a spe­cial­ist in in­ter­na­tional trade pol­icy and in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com

AS NOW cus­tom­ary, June was de­clared Caribbean Amer­i­can Her­itage Month in the USA to cel­e­brate the con­tri­bu­tion of Caribbean mi­grants. The month is be­ing com­mem­o­rated, this year, within the COVID-19 pan­demic and amid wide­spread protest against po­lice ex­cesses and racism in the USA. Also shad­owed by COVID19, peo­ple in the Caribbean have joined others around the world in sig­nalling sup­port for the peace­ful US protests, while also ac­knowl­edg­ing our own strug­gles with po­lice ex­cesses and race and class prej­u­dice within the re­gion.

Re­call that our close re­la­tion­ship with the Amer­i­can states date back to the 17th cen­tury, and I re­fer you to my Gleaner ar­ti­cle of June 12, 2019 ti­tled ‘US-CARICOM re­la­tions: a che­quered trade his­tory’. Na­tion­als of Ja­maica and other Bri­tish West In­dian (BWI) ter­ri­to­ries be­gan to im­mi­grate to the USA in larger num­bers af­ter the Amer­i­can Civil War (1861-1865), which re­sulted in the eman­ci­pa­tion of four mil­lion en­slaved peo­ple of African de­scent. This was 30 years af­ter the abo­li­tion of slav­ery in the BWI. The US also be­gan re­cruit­ing agri­cul­tural work­ers from the BWI. Mi­gra­tion con­tin­ued in spite of the US’s ‘apartheid’ or ‘Jim Crow’ sys­tem, which of­fi­cially ended al­most 100 years later. Through the years, many per­sons of Caribbean her­itage were ac­tive par­tic­i­pants in the US civil rights move­ment and con­tinue to be.

There are some voices ques­tion­ing Caribbean in­ter­est in US af­fairs. In my view, we should not feel con­strained to re­search and com­ment on events in the USA.

Var­i­ous US ad­min­is­tra­tions have des­ig­nated the Caribbean as its Third Bor­der and, as should be known, our economies are in­ter­twined. What hap­pens in the US im­pacts CARICOM coun­tries be­cause it is:

• Still a devel­op­ment part­ner. There is co­op­er­a­tion through the US-Caribbean Strate­gic En­gage­ment Act and other in­stru­ments.

• Our prin­ci­pal trad­ing part­ner. In 2018, CARICOM coun­tries im­ported goods valu­ing US$9.4 bil­lion and ex­ported US$3.5 bil­lion – US trade sur­plus $5.9 bil­lion.

• In trade in ser­vices, a main source of tourist ar­rivals into the re­gion. In 2018, over 6 mil­lion vis­i­tors came and earn­ings ex­ceeded US$10 bil­lion.

• The home of over three mil­lion per­sons from CARICOM coun­tries, mak­ing it a ma­jor source of re­mit­tances and di­as­pora en­gage­ment.

• The travel des­ti­na­tion in 2018 for 1.79 mil­lion na­tion­als from all Caribbean coun­tries for tourism, busi­ness, health and ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices.

• A source of fi­nan­cial ser­vices and in­vest­ments; and

• A cen­tre of mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions.

These are rea­sons enough for us in CARICOM to be in­ter­ested in and have opin­ions on var­i­ous events un­fold­ing in the USA which im­pact our in­ter­ests.

RE­OPEN­ING OUR ECONOMIES

The Caribbean is the re­gion most de­pen­dent on tourism. In some coun­tries, the sec­tor ac­counts for about 50 per cent of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Most of our vis­i­tors, as in­di­cated, ar­rive from the USA by air or sea. COVID-19 halted tourism and high­lighted our de­pen­dence as unem­ploy­ment in­creased and for­eign ex­change in­flows de­clined. Gov­ern­ments are thus un­der pres­sure to open their bor­ders to vis­i­tors to re­vive economies.

As we open, how­ever, we must be aware of the sit­u­a­tion in the USA where there are al­ready nearly two mil­lion cases of COVID-19, and with wide­spread and sus­tained protests, could see a spike in cases. The US has to suc­cess­fully con­tain this virus. Like else­where, the econ­omy has been se­ri­ously af­fected. Fortytwo mil­lion peo­ple are cur­rently claim­ing unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. Lat­est em­ploy­ment fig­ures have im­proved, but have to fur­ther im­prove at con­sis­tent lev­els. Con­sumer spend­ing de­clined by 13.6 per cent and con­fi­dence has to im­prove to pri­ori­tise a Caribbean va­ca­tion. Re­cov­ery of the travel in­dus­try will be crit­i­cal.

With con­tin­ued un­cer­tainty, we should not be sur­prised if the flow of vis­i­tors is be­low ex­pec­ta­tions for the rest of this year. We hope­fully are plan­ning with this in mind.

CBPTA

In our trade with the USA, as you know, the Caribbean Basin Trade Part­ner­ship Act (CBPTA) will ex­pire in Septem­ber. The re­sub­mit­ted Ex­ten­sion Bill has been in Congress (House and Se­nate) since Fe­bru­ary 2019. I hope it will be adopted, but we must con­sider that Congress is pre­oc­cu­pied with COVID-19, its eco­nomic reper­cus­sions, and the protests. This is also an elec­tion year.

And so, gov­ern­ments and peo­ple in the Caribbean need to take ac­count of our con­nec­tions with the USA which im­pact our economies and per­sonal lives.

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