Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial: Brexit debate important to Ja

Published:Monday | March 14, 2016 | 3:00 AM

Distracted by an election campaign and the formation of a new Government at home, it is understandable that Jamaican policymakers may have paid little attention to a campaign on the other side of the Atlantic - the one over whether Britain should remain in, or leave the European Union (EU), the so-called 'Brexit'. That referendum will take place on June 23. Its outcome will be important to Jamaica.

It used to be conventional wisdom that a stay side would handily win the argument and the polls still favour Britain's membership of the European club, but the odds are not as wide as they used to be.

Many Britons say that the deal Prime Minister David Cameron negotiated with his European counterparts to restrict welfare payments to other EU citizens in the UK, and application of some regulations, do not go far enough to entice them to stay. So, around 140 of Mr Cameron's Conservative Party members have abandoned him on the matter and some of his top Cabinet colleagues and key party figures are actively in the leave campaign.

 

WHY SHOULD THIS MATTER?

 

Why should this matter to Jamaica? There are several reasons. Perchance Brexit happens, it would likely require substantial foreign policy reconfigurations by Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Jamaica has long, historic relations with Britain, its former colonial controller. Large numbers of Jamaicans and people of Jamaican descent live in the UK. Britain is a significant market for Jamaica's goods and services, including agricultural products and tourism, and Kingston does receive some economic aid from London.

But over the last 40 years, the deep economic relationship that Jamaica once enjoyed with Britain has largely transcended London and moved to Brussels, even when this country's products stayed in the UK - the consequence of Britain's membership of the Common Market and, subsequently, the EU. Preferences for sugar and bananas in Britain were subsumed in the agreement between African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations and the EU. More latterly has been the Economic Partnership Agreement, a reciprocal free-trade arrangement between the Cariforum (CARICOM, plus the Dominican Republic) countries and the EU.

 

DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT

 

Further, substantial development support flows to the Caribbean from the EU, including, in Jamaica's case, billions of dollars to help in the reform of the island's sugar and banana industries in the face of the erosion and loss of preferences. There have also been direct EU budgetary grants - J$2.5 billion last October and J$6.9 billion in 2013 to help support the island's economic reform project under its programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But as important as the EU has been to Jamaica, this newspaper has not sensed that Jamaica has developed a large, overarching European policy. Our impression is that while policymakers appreciate, intellectually, the importance of Europe to the island's economic well-being, our European policy has largely been an appendage of our UK policy - of sentiment and nostalgia.

Much will have to change if Brexit happens - as it should if the Brits choose to stay. There needs to be a new coherence on Europe, separate from any perceived special relationship Jamaica enjoys with the UK. This should be high on the agenda of the new foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, who might also remember that when her party was previously in Government and its agreement with the IMF went awry, the EU withheld budget support from Jamaica.