Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Editorial | The new America beyond aid

Published:Wednesday | March 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The Trump administration's declared intention to deeply cut foreign aid to pay for planned increases in spending on America's military has, quite understandably, raised concerns among some people in Kingston, who fear that Jamaica could be impacted negatively.

"A lot of projects out there might be affected," Dennis Chung, CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, told this newspaper. Some projects might, indeed, be squeezed if Jamaica is among the countries on the chopping block for Uncle Sam's help.

But the impact may not be as grave might be assumed, at first blush. And while US economic assistance is important, there are other matters that might flow from the Trump presidency to which Jamaica should put its mind.

In nominal terms, the United States is a big donor to the other countries. Barack Obama's last budget to Congress, for instance, had a foreign-aid component of US$42.4 billion. That, however, was less than one per cent of the federal government's proposed expenditure for the 2017 fiscal year. Further, America's foreign-aid spend has hovered around 0.17 per cent of its gross national product. Britain's is 0.7 per cent, or the level the United Nations recommends for developed countries.

While Jamaica gets more financial help from America that most of its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners, it has not, since the Reagan-Seaga era when Kingston was for a period deemed a critical pole for US victory in the Cold War and aid reached over US$100 million been in the top tier of global beneficiaries of US largesse.

For instance, in 2016, America's aid to the island was US$9 million, or a 14 per cent decline on the 2015 figure, which itself was a fall on 16 per cent on the previous year's. Indeed, America's aid for the eight years, up to 2016, was US$67 million.


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The importance of US-Jamaica relations, however, is beyond aid. There is a significant amount of US investment in the island, and a large number of Jamaicans live in the United States. Jamaica and the US occupy the same neighbourhood.But the most crucial element of that relationship was the sense of stability, certainty, calm and discipline that countries like Jamaica associated with the United States. It remained the world's sole superpower, but there was a presumption that its exercise of that power, economic and military, was grounded in democratic ideals, sensitive to the aspiration of its partners. Even when America displayed an ugly side, you assumed, or wanted to, that it was an aberration, and that America's better self would soon be asserted. In Donald Trump, with incoherent foreign policy declared in 140-character tweets, old certitudes of the United States are no longer firm. Under the circumstances, it would seem to us that Jamaica, either on its own or with its CARICOM partnerships, should be seriously thinking about how it, or they, will survive this new American irrationality, if it is sustained.

For instance, our Government should be analysing what might happen with, say, the drug trade, if Mr Trump builds his wall along its border with Mexico and the cartels try to find new routes through the Caribbean.

There is the issue, too, of whether the Caribbean Basin Initiative will survive an overhaul of NAFTA and what kind of security partnership the Caribbean can expect with the new America.