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Editorial: EU - partnership and lessons

Published:Wednesday | February 18, 2015 | 2:00 AM

It is not the kind of event that stirs popular imagination and has people dancing in the streets. But the observation in 2015, launched last week, of four decades of formal cooperation between Jamaica and the European Union (EU) is a significant development, worthy of celebration.

Indeed, like most enduring relationships, this one has not been all bliss. On balance, though, it has been good for Jamaica. Further, the EU offers Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean a potential template for cooperative development.

In a way, 40 years understate the length of this relationship. For 1975 marks the signing of the Lome Convention on aid and trade between the European Economic Community, the EU's predecessors, and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries, the negotiations of which P.J. Patterson, then Jamaica's foreign minister, was a principal player. At least two years earlier, Britain had already entered the European pact and its trade and economic agreements with Jamaica and other former colonies had to be accommodated in the context of this broader relationship.

With regard to the EU-Jamaica ledger, as Paolo Amadei, the EU's Jamaica representative, highlighted last week, over the 40 years, the EU has provided Jamaica with an estimated €1.2 billion in development assistance, of which, according to the finance minister, Peter Phillips, nearly 80 per cent has been grant funding. The J$7 billion that the EU will make available in budgetary support for the 2015-16 fiscal year will be important to Jamaica's fiscal stability and in support of its economic reform programme.

But as important as the fiscal support has been, the access, or potential thereto, that Jamaica has had to EU markets, even if it - like others that are having to acclimate to reciprocal trading regimes - finds the transition difficult. This is not entirely Europe's fault, although it can do more to help.

For a long time, Caribbean countries, and their ACP partners, enjoyed duty-free access to Europe for their primary commodities. Globalisation, over which small, weak countries like those in this region have little control, insists on open trade, and the kind of reciprocity that the EU has wheedled and muscled out of regional blocs like the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

 

Bad economic policies

 

The shock of the transition for Jamaica has been more difficult because of decades of bad economic policies, which are only now being corrected. Even as these reforms must be accelerated, so, too, should the EU enhance its anti-shock support, including helping to fashion and mobilise a coordinated global response to the Caribbean's crisis of debt.

That brings us to the other plank of this 40-year relationship. It is not a Jamaican event. It is a regional one. From the start, the EU has dealt with the Caribbean as a collective. It reinforced this approach with its insistence on negotiating economic partnership agreements in blocs.

The EU recognises, in its own circumstance, that the sum of its parts is greater than the product of the individual bits. If these larger, rich markets of Europe appreciate the logic of conglomeration, what of the small, poor, mostly island states of the Caribbean?

The bottom line is that the EU, with its shared sovereignty, offers, with appropriate adjustments, a reasonable blueprint to CARICOM. The process is for Jamaica to embrace and lead.