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Editorial: Propose a new Rockefeller Committee

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM

President Barack Obama's visit to the island this week, fleeting as it will be, is good for the Caribbean. It is potentially better for Jamaica if we can extract its value. In that regard, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller must enter her bilateral discussions with the United States (US) president knowing specifically what she wants.

First, this is a two-pronged engagement by Mr Obama, who is stopping over on his way to the Summit of the Americas in Panama. While on the one hand it is a formal official visit to Jamaica, it, at the same time, has a regional dimension. Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders, including Prime Minister Simpson Miller, will have talks with the US president.

It is the second time Mr Obama will be meeting with CARICOM leaders. In 2009, he met them on the margins of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago and promised to launch a "new chapter" in US-Caribbean relations, after Washington's disengagement from the region for the better part of two decades, starting with the end of the Cold War and intensified by America's preoccupation with the Middle East and global terrorism after 9/11 and the Arab Spring.

Mr Obama hasn't acted on his pledge in Port-of-Spain at the pace, or with the intensity, regional leaders had hoped for. In the process, Washington left room that has been occupied by Venezuela, with its PetroCaribe oil initiative, and China, via its development loans and investments in infrastructure. The Americans, however, have been recently stirring, paying attention to more than security concerns on their so-called third border. Earlier this year, for instance, Vice-President Joe Biden met CARICOM leaders in Washington and unveiled a green energy initiative - which includes support for wind farms in Jamaica from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).


profitable partnership


While it is not CARICOM's interest to jettison its expanded relations with Venezuela and China, America's re-engagement of the region, with which it has a long and profitable partnership, is welcome. The US is not only our closest geopolitical ally, but the world's most dynamic and richest economy. Therefore, a signal by the Obama administration that this region is an area in which it has confidence and where its private sector should do business - as was flagged by the OPIC deal - is of value to Jamaica and CARICOM, whose economies are still struggling to recover from the global financial crisis of 2008.

The Caribbean's problem is exacerbated by debt, whose ratio is the worst for any region of the world. Debt servicing proscribes adequate investment in infrastructure and social services that induce growth, a problem exemplified by Jamaica, one of the world's most indebted countries.

CARICOM's leaders must urge Mr Obama to support a global initiative on its debt, even as his administration domestically pursues initiatives to facilitate US investment and trade with CARICOM. A resuscitated and re-engineered Caribbean Basin Recovery Act is a good starting point.

Regional initiatives apart, Jamaica has an opportunity in the bilaterals to promote its specific agenda. Three decades ago when President Reagan visited Jamaica, he rewarded Kingston with a committee of American corporate titans, headed by David Rockefeller, to help steer US investment to the island. President Obama might acknowledge Jamaica's current efforts to fix its economy with a similar, high-powered committee.