Tue | Sep 22, 2020

Editorial | IDB, WTO and a foreign-policy review

Published:Tuesday | September 15, 2020 | 12:13 AM

Having supported the overturning of tradition and backed last week’s election of Donald Trump’s controversial candidate for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), it would be useful for the Jamaican Government to share the details of its strategic perspectives on this and other critical global issues.

In other words, as this newspaper has suggested in the past, there is need for a full national dialogue on foreign policy, which should lead to a clearer articulation, beyond the jottings in the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP’s) recent election manifesto, of where and how Jamaica sees, and intends to position, itself in the post-COVID-19 world. The Government, as we have proposed previously, should seek the help of old foreign-,policy hands in moderating this conversation.

After Saturday’s election of the Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone as the IDB’s president, the most immediate question now for the Holness administration, especially the foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, is who Jamaica supports for the job of executive director of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and what it expects from that person. Perhaps Dr Nigel Clarke, who was, last week, reappointed Jamaica’s finance minister, should indicate, too, whether he intends to stay in the job or has ambitions of joining Mr Claver-Carone in Washington.

A hemispheric institution in which the United States (US) owns 30 per cent, the largest single stake, the IDB lends upwards of US$12 billion a year to its Latin American and Caribbean borrowing members. Until now, the tradition of the 61-year-old bank was that its president would come from Latin America while the United States nominated the vice-president. The Trump administration, however, turned things on its head when it nominated Mr Claver-Carone, a former US executive director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and latterly, an adviser on the National Security Council (NSC), to succeed the IDB’s outgoing president, the Colombian Luis Alberto Moreno. Mr Moreno had, in the past, pushed back at America’s attempt to install Mr Claver-Carone as his vice-president.

UPEND BALANCE OF POWER

That Mr Claver-Carone’s election would upend tradition, and the traditional balance of power at the IDB, was one thing. Even more upsetting to many was the fear that Mr Claver-Carone, the architect of hard-line positions against Cuba and Venezuela at the NSC, would politicise the bank. There were, for instance, his declarations of intent to increase the IDB’s lending capacity so as to blunt the influence of China – from whose soft loans Jamaica has been a beneficiary – in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Further, given Mr Claver-Carone’s partisanship hard-line positions, critics worried, too, about the relationship he would have with Democrats in the US Congress and at the White House should Mr Trump lose this November’s presidential election.

On the hemisphere front, several countries, led by Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Costa Rica, as well as leading Latin American figures, partly in a bid to prevent Mr Claver-Carone’s ascension but also citing the need difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, attempted to have the vote delayed until next March. Even the European Union voiced misgivings about a Claver-Moreno presidency and supported the delay.

But last month, Jamaica joined 16 US allies, including Caribbean Community member states Guyana, Haiti, and Suriname and the “government” of Venezuela’s self-declared president, Juan Guaidó, in insisting that the vote be held now.

“The election of the president of the IDB is of the utmost importance for our region ... . We urge all member countries to comply, in due time and form, with the resolutions already approved,” they said. At the last moment last week, when it was apparent that the US would muster both the quorum as well as the votes to secure Mr Claver-Carone’s election, Argentina and Costa Rica withdrew their candidates and a broader boycott plan collapsed.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF WTO

Earlier, during his campaign, Mr Claver-Carone, responding to the worries about a shift to an American presidency at the IDB, pledged to put in key positions people from Latin America and the Caribbean. Saying that there was “no shortage of a generation of new talent throughout the region”, he identified Nigel Clarke among the capable people in charge of Latin American and Caribbean economies who could join the IDB.

The IDB may now be water under the proverbial bridge, but choosing a new executive director of the WTO to replace Roberto Azevêdo remains a live issue.

The Americans have long railed against the WTO, claiming especially that its appeals body oversteps its bounds and makes law rather than follows the rules of the treaty. The Trump administration has proposed a radical overhaul of the organisation, raising concerns that if it has its way, the system of multilateralism, and the protections it affords countries like Jamaica, would be severely compromised, if not crumbled.

Further, the questions the COVID-19 pandemic has raised about economic globalisation demands that countries like ours think deeply about foreign policy and how to broaden the base of their relations without surrendering their sovereignty. For these and other reasons, including, as the JLP acknowledges in its manifesto, the existential threat posed by climate change – which the Trump administration dismisses as a hoax – Jamaica must act urgently on foreign-policy review.