Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial | Prepare the Trump trade agenda

Published:Thursday | March 16, 2017 | 3:00 AM

Audley Shaw is optimistic that Donald Trump's presidency in the United States will be good for Jamaica. The finance minister has, twice recently, laid out his case, skimpy as it is, for this expectation.

The last time Jamaica had relatively robust economic growth over multiple years, Mr Shaw quipped to journalist this week, was in the mid-1980s, when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) formed the government Edward Seaga was prime minister, Ronald Regan was the US president and a Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), the non-reciprocal free-trade agreement between the US and Central American and Caribbean countries , was launched.

It was still, too, the time of the Cold War. The CBI was Mr Reagan's way of supporting ideological partners, including Mr Seaga on the right.

Another of Mr Shaw's observations, countries like Jamaica tend to do better with Republicans in the White House.

Earlier this month, at an investors' briefing hosted by the brokerage house, Mayberry, Mr Shaw highlighted another of his reasons for being optimistic about Donald Trump. "He's a businessman and he knows the value of partnership and good economic relationships," he said. Presumably, the Trump administration will seek to expand America's economic relations with Jamaica.

We hope that Mr Shaw is right. But rather than investing in optimism and hope, we would prefer the Jamaican Government engage in pragmatic policy planning.

It should start with being clear about two things:

The first, Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan.

Mr Trump, driven, by populist, jingoistic nationalism, doesn't possess a deep core ideology of the kind that caused Mr Regan to champion the CBI as part of a grand strategy against Cold War enemies. In the second point, we commend to the government columnist David Jessop's repeat in this newspaper, an observer of the Trump administration: "Watch what the new administration and the Congress do, not what the president tweets."

In this respect, we hope that the Jamaican Government is seriously perusing the review for last year and the accompanying Trump administration's trade policy agenda for 2017, recently released by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), to which Mr Jessop made reference on Sunday. That agenda, if executed, poses a serious threat to the existing world trade order and any protection it provides for small countries like those in the Caribbean.

The Trump administration makes clear its belief that its economic agenda will be best achieved via bilateral trade deal "rather than multilateral negotiations", as well as its willingness to rip up existing agreements to accelerate its policy goals of economic nationalism. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is at risk.

 

PROBLEMS WITH WTO

 

Developing states have many problems with the WTO. There are things they would like fixed in global trade talks.

But in the face of the Trump agenda, they are likely to be safer in a rules-based, multilateral system with a clear dispute-settlement mechanism equally available to all members. " ... Even if a WTO dispute panel, or the WTO Appellate Body rules against the United States, such a ruling does not automatically lead to a change in US law or practice."

In other words, in the pursuit of its perceived national economic interest, the United States will not necessarily abide by a multilateral system in which the weak might hope for insulation and protection.

That is grave cause for concern for which the foreign trade minister, Kamina Johnson-Smith and her CARICOM colleagues should begin to craft responses.