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2016 US Presidential Elections & the Caribbean

By Andrea M. Ewart, Esq.

U.S. foreign and trade policy could look very different in 2017. Whether this is the case depends, of course, on who wins the Presidential elections on November 8th, 2016. At the same time, there is little reason to expect that any change will have a major impact on the current status of US-Caribbean relations.

Hillary Clinton as President will continue the general course of President Obama’s foreign and trade policy. With respect to the Caribbean, this policy has created some increased engagement with the region, notably in President Obama’s second term. President Obama’s 2015 meeting with CARICOM Heads of State in Jamaica is the highlight – not to be taken lightly given the countries/regions desirous of a visit from the U.S. President. The groundwork had already been laid by Vice President Biden’s meeting with CARICOM in Trinidad & Tobago, and the signature of the Trade & Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2013. Since then, the U.S. and CARICOM meet bi-annually through the Trade & Investment Council (TIC) created by the TIFA.

Energy has received particular focus. After increasing levels of engagement in this area, President Obama initiated the Task Force for Caribbean and Central American Energy Security in 2015. Its goal is to diminish the vulnerability of small energy markets in the region to fluctuations in global energy markets.

The region can expect these key initiatives to continue under a President Clinton. Secretary of State Clinton was very focused on women and gender issues so this is one possible area of increased attention under her presidency.

The unknowns lie with a Trump presidency. Will the U.S. return to the “benign” neglect of the Caribbean, and indeed of any country or region that does not pose an immediate security or economic threat to the United States?

The policy that Trump the Candidate promotes is best described as isolationist. In his trade platform to “make America great again”, Mr. Trump promises to:

• Retrench on trade negotiations by renegotiating the 20+-year old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between U.S. Canada, and Mexico; and withdrawing from the TPP; and

• Strengthen trade enforcement against countries that his Administration would label as “cheats” – this would include unilaterally raising tariffs and duties on the goods from some countries.

Some of these commitments, if implemented, would trigger a trade war. Economists have said this eventuality would push the U.S. and the world back into economic recession. Even if this worst case scenario did not occur, the region is unlikely to see heightened engagement under a Trump presidency.

A very good basis has been laid, nevertheless, that could allow the current status of US-Caribbean foreign and trade relations to continue under either candidate. There may not be a US-Caribbean Energy Summit under a President Trump. However, the important work takes place after and in-between such high-level events. Progress comes from the work of professional foreign policy officials and engaged civil society. The key deciding factor for the future of US-Caribbean relations continues to be the extent to which the region responds while proactively and consistently engaging the U.S. with its own agenda.

US-Cuba foreign and trade relations are considered separately by US policymakers. The topic is also of particular interest to the rest of the Caribbean.

Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump have taken opposing positions on the US opening of Cuba. Ms. Clinton supports the current opening and lifting of the US embargo. Mr. Trump perhaps appreciates the business opportunities but has said he would be prepared to return the restrictions if Cuba does not give more religious and political freedoms to its citizens.

 

Andrea Ewart is a Jamaican national and US-trained customs and international trade attorney with her own firm, DevelopTradeLaw, LLC, which works with businesses, governments, and individuals to facilitate the successful movement of goods and services across national borders. Ms Ewart also consults for Caribbean businesses and governments on World Trade Organization (WTO), CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), US-Caribbean trade relations, trade negotiations, and other trade issues.

Caribbean pollution experts meet in jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- At a recent regional workshop convened by the UN Environment - Caribbean Environment Programme, (UNEP CEP) in Jamaica from August 15-17, over 30 national and regional experts committed their support to the continued development of the region’s first state of marine environment report for the Caribbean Sea.

The development of the report will be financed by two regional projects funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems Project (UNDP/GEF CLME+) and the Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystem Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (GEF IWEco). The contributions from these two projects are expected to be in excess of US$100,000.

Addressing the experts during the workshop, Christopher Corbin, UNEP CEP’s programme officer with responsibility for its pollution sub-programme, explained that many countries in the wider Caribbean region have “limited data on the levels of pollution of their marine environments and that this was being compounded by inadequate national monitoring capacity”.

Corbin further highlighted that the lack of pollution data hindered the ability of governments to identify “pollution hot spots” and focus their Interventions in areas with the highest environmental and human health risks. According to recent UNEP reports, pollution continues to be one of the most significant threats to coastal and marine ecosystems and to public health in the wider Caribbean region.

This assessment report is expected to support harmonized regional approaches for managing transboundary pollution and to protect fragile coastal and marine resources.

The main challenges identified for developing the report included:

(1) Selecting the most appropriate and cost-effective methodology;
(2) Ensuring quality of data; and
(3) Gaining access to existing pollution-related information.

Improving knowledge about the state of the marine environment including identifying the major sources and impacts of pollution is one of the objectives of the Land Based Sources and Activities (LBS).

Protocol

The LBS Protocol, which was adopted in 1999 and became law in 2010, requires countries in the wider Caribbean region to: “take all measures to prevent reduce and control pollution” of the Caribbean Sea.

The development of the region’s first state of environment report is just one of many ongoing activities by UNEP CEP and partners to provide capacity-building support that will enable regional governments to better assess the quantities, types, sources and impacts of land-based sources of marine pollution.

The first draft of the report is expected to be presented at the third conference of parties to the LBS Protocol to be held in early 2017.

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

Four CARICOM leaders at NAM summit in Venezuela

MARGARITA ISLAND, Venezuela -- Only four Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders were among the kings, presidents and prime ministers of the 120-member Non Aligned Movement (NAM), which started its two-day summit in Margarita Island, Venezuela on Saturday -- and only two were expected to be present when the final declaration is adopted Sunday.

But altogether, ten of CARICOM’s 15 member-states are represented at the third such summit to be held on a Caribbean island, which started with a meeting of officials on Tuesday and of foreign affairs ministers on Thursday.

Known more for its beaches and tropical tourism fare than as a venue for meetings of world leaders, the tiny island has been home to the CARICOM delegations since the 17th NAM Summit started earlier this week.

The four prime ministers -- Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda, Roosevelt Skeritt of Dominica, Dr Timothy Harris of St Kitts and Nevis and Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines -- were in Margarita Island on Saturday, when the two-day summit began.

But Harris and Skeritt both returned home on Saturday evening.

Six other CARICOM member-states are also represented, with Senator Peter David leading the Grenada delegation, and Saint Lucia represented by non-resident ambassador to ALBA and PetroCaribe Eustace Vitalis.

Other states represented by their resident ambassadors in Venezuela were Belize, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was expected to address the weekend summit on its last day.

He hinted before it started on Saturday that he would propose to transform the Non-Aligned Movement into “an international organization that defiantly says no to the new colonialism”.

Under the slogan "United on the Path for Peace,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez gave the inaugural address on Tuesday, saying that during the weekend summit her country “will also ratify the defence of the right of the people of the world to fight for peace and sovereignty”.

"Emancipation, anti-imperialism and peace are the flags that define the XVII NAM Summit Venezuela 2016," said Rodriguez.

Among other ideals being promoted by the NAM, she added, are respect for independence, self-determination, sovereignty and the promotion of cooperative relations on the basis of mutual respect.

The organization also strives towards preservation of world peace and strongly opposes social exclusion. It also advocates non-interference in the internal affairs of states, as well as the disarmament and the fight against all forms of manifestation of imperial domination.

Venezuela has assumed NAM's rotating presidency for the next three years, after taking over from Iran.

With 120 member states, NAM is the second largest international body after the United Nations. It has 53 members from Africa, 39 from Asia, 26 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 17 observer countries and 10 observer organizations.

This is the third time a Caribbean island has hosted a NAM summit and the fourth time for a Latin American country.

Cuba hosted the NAM summit and assumed the presidency in 1979 and 2006 and Venezuela’s neighbour, Colombia, hosted the 1995 summit.

The Margarita summit ended Sunday. (The Diplomatic Courier)

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

CTO and CHTA working with regional partners to build climate resilience in the tourism sector

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- Regional tourism development agency, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and regional hospitality agency, the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) have signed a letter of agreement (LoA) to join other regional agencies and institutions representing climate sensitive sectors as joint tourism partners on the consortium of regional sectoral early warning information systems across climate timescales (EWISACTs) coordination partners currently being spearheaded by the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH).

State-of-the-art, tailored climate information delivered through this agreement will better position the tourism sector to become more resilient to extreme climate events while enhancing various aspects of its business operations, including marketing.

David Farrell, principal of the CIMH, which functions as the secretariat for the EWISACTs consortium, presented the LoA for signing to Hugh Riley, CTO secretary-general, and Karolin Troubetzkoy, CHTA president, during the State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC) in Bridgetown, Barbados.

"The CTO recognizes that there is an urgent need to develop initiatives to enhance tourism sector resilience to climate variability and extremes utilising a very holistic and proactive approach. Through this partnership, we will seek to develop climate information tools and services which can be used by the tourism industry, particularly public and private sector decision-makers to direct marketing efforts, inform policy formulation and guide decision-making," said Riley.

Troubetzkoy also affirmed the engagement of the hotel sector, saying, “CHTA is keenly aware that our sector is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate, and we are committed to being proactive in ensuring Caribbean tourism is more resilient. This agreement recognizes the need for smart, effective partnerships that will allow us to develop strong, strategic policies and practices for addressing climate impacts.”

In the coming months, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI), the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA), and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) will follow the lead of the CTO and the CHTA and sign the LoA to formalize their participation in the consortium.

Farrell noted, "The signing of this letter of agreement by the representatives of the regional tourism sector places the region at the leading edge of research and development activities geared at identifying, designing and delivering climate services solutions to advance the regional tourism sector. The CIMH looks forward to a long and successful partnership working with the CTO, CHTA and other climate sensitive sectors through the EWISACTs Consortium."

The agreement makes the Caribbean the first region globally to officially create and implement a joint commitment between climate-sensitive sectors and a climate services provider to build climate resilience. It also makes the CTO and the CHTA the first regional sectoral organisations to formally join the Consortium, a multi-sectoral partnership established through the programme for building regional climate capacity in the Caribbean (BRCCC programme), a three-year project made possible through the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the CIMH.

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

CDB funds workshop to improve service delivery in the tourism industry

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- For many countries in the Caribbean, a successful tourism industry is critical to social and economic growth and development. However, an increasingly competitive global tourism market has meant that Caribbean countries must find ways to differentiate themselves, in order to continue to attract visitors.

One way to do this is to improve the level of service delivery that is provided by tourism-related micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). The international Hospitality Assured Certification (HAC), which was developed specifically for tourism and tourism-related businesses, promotes a culture of service and business excellence. Businesses that have attained the HAC have signaled their commitment to service delivery, business excellence and continuous improvement.

The HAC process is supported by trained business advisors, who provide technical assistance to MSMEs seeking to become certified. As such, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has partnered with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) to host a workshop for business advisors from the region. The workshop seeks to equip 16 participants with the necessary skills to advise on HAC processes for Caribbean MSMEs.

The workshop is taking place from September 5-9, at the CTO offices in Barbados. Speaking at the opening ceremony on September 5, Bonita Morgan, director, resource mobilization and development at the CTO, reminded participants that they are a critical part of the HAC process.

“You are the ones who help us to promote the programme, but also, you provide the technical assistance to the businesses to help them to meet the criteria to be able to strengthen their businesses and their processes and structures, to engage their employees and do the things that are really geared towards making the business experience a wonderful one, and so, you are a critical component of this process,” Morgan said.

CDB has provided funding in the amount of US$61,000 towards the workshop, through the bank’s Caribbean Technological Consultancy Services (CTCS) network.

“The CTCS network is the bank’s principal technical assistance programme, which seeks to enhance the managerial and operational capacities of micro, small and medium sized enterprises in the Bank’s borrowing member countries. This workshop is in keeping with interventions in that regard, where training is conducted to build the capacity of resource persons who are then required to provide technical assistance to MSMEs in their countries,” said Michel Thomas, operations officer (CTCS), CDB.

Workshop participants are from ten Caribbean countries: Anguilla, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Guyana, Jamaica, Monserrat, Saint Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

Karl Samuda appeals to banks to drop interest rates for sake of small businesses

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Friday September 2, 2016 – Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda has called on commercial banks to lower interest rates on loans to single digit, to boost production and growth within the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector.

He cited agriculture as one sector which cannot grow with an interest rate that currently exceeds four per cent.

Minister Samuda noted that 97 per cent of registered taxpayers are found within the MSME sector, “but the sector cannot hope to thrive at the pace necessary to get this economy rolling, unless we get to low single-digit interest charges”.

He made the comments at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Scotiabank Vision Achiever Programme on Wednesday.

Minister Samuda said the greatest challenge for the small-business sector is the inability to provide the level of collateral needed to access loans.

“If you don’t have it (collateral), your negotiating skills are diminished. With big collateral you can bargain and get the best rates. I think for Jamaica to really go forward, the philosophy of banking has to be altered somewhat, whereby the focus is more on the viability of the project than on the level of collateral that is offered,” he contended.

Meanwhile, Samuda commended Scotiabank on its Vision Achiever Programme. Under that initiative, 25 small and medium enterprise operators benefited from an intensive three-month coaching programme designed to achieve core competencies for running a successful business.

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

Commonwealth takes notice of region's de-risking worries

Caribbean countries are not alone in worrying about how de-risking is threatening their financial stability. The Commonwealth is not only noticing it but trying to come up with solutions.

Passions ran high as money transfer businesses and smaller financial institutions met this week at the Commonwealth Secretariat to address a “detrimental” decline in international banking for many businesses and individuals.

The public meeting was convened to discuss the report, Disconnecting from Global Finance, which proposes solutions to the trend of financial institutions terminating or restricting so-called correspondent banking relationships (CBRs) with legitimate clients as a way of mitigating legal risks. This practice, which is a response in part to increased regulation, is known as de-risking.

“Major banks are now avoiding banking customers, or categories of customers, they deem low profit or high risk. The drivers are complex and varied but global regulations that are designed to stop money laundering and the financing of terrorism have contributed to this worrying phenomenon,” said Commonwealth Economic Policy expert Samantha Attridge, Head of Finance and Development Policy.

“Our report shows a worrying rise in CBR closures, doubling year-on-year since 2013. The issue is particularly affecting regions such as the Caribbean, where for example in Belize seven of Belize’s nine banks lost their CBRs, as well as the Central Bank losing one of its CBRs.”

De-risking is curtailing countries’ access to essential cross-border financial services such as trade finance and international money transfers, which are essential to many economies. The issue is particularly detrimental to vulnerable economies and small states in the Commonwealth, Attridge said.

Participants at the meeting on Wednesday included the Executive Secretary of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international anti-money laundering and counter financing terrorism standard setter, as well as senior representatives from the British Bankers’ Association, HSBC Holdings, Santander and the Wolfsberg Group.

Delegates applauded the Commonwealth for proposing measures including setting best practice standards for money service businesses to boost their legitimacy and reputation, and improving guidance and risk-tolerance standards for banks, that balance the need to prevent illegal activity with ensuring smaller institutions in developing countries are not excluded from the global financial system.

The Disconnecting from Global Finance report also proposes building capacity for financial regulators in developing countries and ensuring they are part of global conversations on the setting of standards and policies.

Paulette Simpson, National’s Executive Corporate Affairs and Public Policy of Jamaica National, one of Jamaica’s largest financial institutions, appealed for an acknowledgement by banks that people’s lives are hanging in the balance.

Stressing the urgency of the situation for institutions like Jamaica National, which was given three months to terminate one 25-year correspondent banking relationship, she called for continued dialogue and immediate solutions.

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

In search of markets - not just medals in Rio

It’s more than just medals Jamaica is going after at the Olympic Games in Rio. So even with a Jamaican being the world’s fastest man aiming to create history for perhaps the final time, it won’t be all fun and games for a special tourism team in Brazil’s capital.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett says marketing destination Jamaica will be their number one priority at Jamaica House, a facility established by the Jamaica Tourist Board to market the island during the summer games.

In an interview with the Jamaica Information Service, he said several meetings with tour operators and airline partners are on the agenda.

“We are also meeting with the Minister [of Tourism] and the head of the tourism authorities in Brazil. The whole intention is to build a relationship and to establish the kind of links that will enable connectivity from that area into Jamaica,” Bartlett explained.

But he acknowledged that the performance of Jamaican athletes, including track star Usain Bolt, will also help in the marketing effort. He said they are expected to do well and the country’s image as a destination should be boosted as a result of that.

“The power of the performance of our athletes will be a strong pull to bring people to Jamaica House and once we have them there in a captive audience, we can work with them,” he said.

Jamaica House is a concept that was first developed around the London 2012 Olympic Games. It will provide visitors with the opportunity to experience Jamaican culture in an interactive way. Daily operations include a host of activities: destination presentations to the travel trade, culinary exposés, consumer promotions, VIP client hosting, and live viewing of the races.

About US$767,000 is being spent on the initiative, with most of the money coming through sponsorship.

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

CARIBBEAN opportunities arising from a rejection of ‘Globalisation’ in the USA

With the US Presidential Election on the horizon, the CAIC has turned its sights this week to US relations. Consultant Rodger Varley shares his thoughts on globalisation and the USA.

As is often the case, many of our financial gurus/economic pundits, reflect the ‘establishment elites’ status quo view of the Western World that the USA must forever be satisfied with years of ‘marginal GDP Growth’ (avg. 1.4% since 2009 –v- 3.4% 1950-2008), and workforce participation (rate down to 62.6% in May 2016 from 66% in 2008), while curiously admiring the Far East and in particular, China’s consistent GDP growth at 7% + as though it is some God Given ‘order’ of world affairs -- it isn’t!

While such a view, may indeed have satisfied a few of such ‘elites’, it appears to not have satisfied the mass of working peoples prospects in USA, who progressively have become relatively ‘poor’ compared with their historical position, with real incomes ‘flat lined’ for the past 18 years, while the middle classes continue to shrink at an alarming rate.

Ironically, it is the ‘purchasing power’ of the US ‘consumer’, the majority of which is indeed the very same working people whose wage prospects have been ‘flat lined’ for decades and whose jobs have disappeared, that have funded this global phenomenon described by the financial elites, as being ‘good for them’!

How has this state of affairs arisen? The financial gurus, will tell us no doubt, it’s the ‘productivity’ of say Chinese workers vs US workers, who ‘folk law’ has it either work harder, or more plausibly, work for less money. This assumption however, fails to recognise the reality that the direct wage component of manufacturing has diminished over time and that it is largely driven by investment in advanced technology/equipment which drives labour costs down, facilitated in large part via the ‘economies of scale’ i.e. Western purchasing power ‘given away’ through either ignorance, neglect, or a combination of both.

Nor do these same ‘globalists’ recognise that WTO rules and regulations, have consistently been abused /not followed by China and others, who have consistently manipulated their currency/devalued, to the extent for example that it is estimated 4.0% of USA GDP has been ‘given away by not implementing already existing WTO rules. By the USA simply invoking existing WTO rules, this position can/should be reversed.

How does all this affect Caribbean economies? - Well the first thing to recognise is that an ‘impoverished’ America does nothing to help the Caribbean; in fact, the corollary is obviously true.

If the American economy can be restored to the level of growth it historically enjoyed i.e. in excess of 3.4% i.e. pre-2008 level regularly, then the opportunities for CARICOM products/exports to share in that restored prosperity will be or should be ’doubled’ from present levels.

The Caribbean therefore has more of a vested interest in the outcome of the US Election than they might think. The most important benefit of a change in US government, would be a President who actually understands these things, and is prepared to actually correct the unfair and restrictive trade practices that others have for decades taken full advantage of, and provide the Caribbean with a rich source of ‘pickings’ in the process.

It's up to investment to put Caribbean back on growth path

Recovery of growth in Latin America and the Caribbean depends on invigorating public and private investment, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The UN organization gave that assessment today as it presented its Economic Survey of Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, in which it forecasts that the region will contract -0.8 per cent this year. This marks a steeper decline than in 2015 (-0.5 per cent).

It stressed the urgent need to mobilize investment—both public and private—to promote the region’s economic recovery and meet the challenges imposed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The capacity of countries to accelerate economic growth depends on the spaces for adopting policies that support investment. These policies should be accompanied by efforts to change the conversation between the public sector and private companies. Increasing productivity is also a key challenge for moving forward along a path of dynamic and stable growth,” Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said during the press conference in Santiago, Chile where the report was presented.

The survey indicates that in the external arena, the global economy will maintain low levels of growth, which will be accompanied by a slow expansion in trade, which has not managed to recover the levels seen before the international financial crisis.

On top of that, the report points to deteriorated prices for the region’s commodities exports and greater international financial uncertainty and volatility, which have increased since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (Brexit). This decision has also produced greater risks to the world’s future growth.

In the regional sphere, the report forecasts a -2.1 per cent contraction for South America in 2016, mainly due to a deterioration in its terms of trade, weaker external demand and a significant deceleration in domestic demand, which reflects a sizeable fall in domestic investment.

Declines All Around

The Caribbean will suffer a -0.3 per cent contraction in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), ECLAC said.

According to the report, six countries are expected to show an economic contraction in 2016: Venezuela (-8.0 per cent), Suriname (-4.0 per cent), Brazil (-3.5 per cent), Trinidad and Tobago (-2.5 per cent), Ecuador (-2.5 per cent) and Argentina (-1.5 per cent).

On the other hand, regional growth will be led by the Dominican Republic (6.0 per cent), Panama (5.9 per cent), Nicaragua and Bolivia (4.5 per cent), and Costa Rica (4.3 per cent).

“Faced with an economic contraction, the region needs progressive structural change with a big environmental push that promotes development based on equality and sustainability, as we have proposed in our institutional document Horizons 2030: Equality at the Centre of Sustainable Development, which we presented in Mexico last May,” Bárcena said.

In its Economic Survey 2016 ECLAC calls for resuming the path of growth and mobilizing financial flows for development financing.

To achieve that, it said, countries must change their fiscal structures to improve tax collection and progressivity, strengthen income taxes (both for individuals and companies), and fight tax evasion and avoidance, which reached the equivalent of 6.7 points of the regional GDP in 2015 at an estimated US$340 billion.

It added that it is necessary to promote renewed public-private coalitions and policies that create appropriate incentives to channel financing towards development goals.

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

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