Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Audrey Marks | Engaging the US and Caribbean

Published:Sunday | September 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Audrey Marks
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The US administration is now back from its summer break and Washington, DC is again humming on many policy platforms. At the embassy, much of our time was consumed over the last two months with the diaspora conferences and Independence events that form part of our diaspora-engagement objectives.

As I now prepare to start my second year in the post, we are again refocusing our emphasis on the Jamaica-USA bilateral relationship, including placing greater attention on the HR4939 implementation process, while also continuing our diplomatic interventions on critical issues such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and correspondent banking, as well as other priorities, including our trade and investment engagements.

This article is an update on HR4939, the framework for the US strategy in this new phase of engagement with the Caribbean that was mandated by the US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act (Public Law 114-291), authored by Reps Engel and Ros-Lehtinen and signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 16, 2016. Since my last article, the State Department (DOS) worked very hard with the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassadors, diaspora groups, and Caribbean Policy Organisations such as CCAA to prepare and present the highly anticipated strategy document to Congress, and it was approved. Kudos to acting Assistant Secretary Francisco Palmieri; acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Kenneth Merten; Director of Caribbean Affairs Brad Freden; and the entire Caribbean Affairs team! It is the clearest and most recent expression of the policy stance of our primary trading partner and globally dominant neighbour.

The strategy focuses on making America's 'Third Border' more secure. It explicitly stresses the need for better security in the Caribbean so as to better protect the US mainland and the Americans who visit and invest in the region. The US$4.6-billion trade surplus with the Caribbean was cited as a strategic interest that must be protected and enhanced. The strategy also acknowledges that economic growth in the region is vital to achieve this goal.

In addition to these "tangible benefits" for the US, the strategy highlights the considerable common ground we share. We are linked in far more than just economic terms: The democratic tradition in the Caribbean is second only to North America. Our democratic roots are deeper and wider than any of the independent Latin American countries, and we have sent our soldiers to fight beside Americans in several wars. We are a unique hemispheric enclave that shares the same values and language as our northern neighbours, and our diaspora has and continues to play an important role in US growth.

The strategy focuses on three interlocking areas for CARICOM: security; prosperity; and mutual well-being. It then breaks these down into six distinct sub-areas that outline US interests in the Caribbean. The six are: security, diplomacy, prosperity, energy, education, and health.

Security: The primary focus is on the clear and present concern of the US with security issues. It cites abnormally high rates of violent crime and corruption in the region, and it warns that increased security on the southern border with Mexico will cause transnational criminal organisations to shift their operations to the Caribbean. It calls for targeted measures to prevent foreign groups like ISIS from gaining a foothold in the region. There will be a multifaceted engagement between security agencies and legal systems to create a powerful barrier to illicit access to the US and its interests in the region.

Diplomacy: The strategy is pragmatic in its acknowledgement of the need to allocate more resources to the US engagement. It specifically calls for establishing a physical presence in all CARICOM countries, regardless of size. It wisely seeks a more systematic engagement with the Caribbean diaspora and highlights the desire for better coordination in international fora such as the United Nations and the Organization of the American States. The launch of an annual conference with regional leaders is designed to keep the focus on the primary areas of the strategy.

 

KEY TO INVESTMENT

 

Prosperity: The goal of preserving the strong trade surplus enjoyed by the US with the region is crystal clear, but it clearly acknowledges that the Caribbean must also benefit if the strategy is to work. The effectiveness of the strategy will be compromised without economic growth in the Caribbean. It pointedly asserts that the Caribbean already holds the key to removing the obstacles to investment. These are listed as: red tape, corruption, security costs and inadequate training. The strategy does, however, recognise the need for a trade and investment conference to increase exports into the US. This can be within the context of the already established US-CARICOM Trade and Investment Council. The importance of the digital revolution is recognised by proposing better coordination between regulators. This is to be complemented by US governmental intervention with information communication technology and financial-services innovators and the corresponding regulators.

Energy: Caribbean energy prices are among the highest in the world. This undermines productivity, economic stability, and living standards. The proposal is to increase reliance on lower-cost US suppliers of LNG and renewable-energy solutions. The strategy highlights the need for governance reforms to enhance private investment and facilitate support by multilateral lending agencies to reduce investment risks. This is an important opportunity for US firms to expand investment in the region.

Education: The DOS points out the benefits of closer ties that result from more educational and cultural exchanges. There will also be assistance to the education system and for applied training to boost competitiveness and Caribbean growth.

Health: The potential threat to the populations of the US and the Caribbean (based on our close geographic space) from infectious diseases is an area of concern. In addition, the negative impact of deficient health care has also been cited as a contributor to the stagnant productivity in the Caribbean. This includes the capacity to respond to natural disasters.

The embassy in Washington will continue to be involved with the working groups that have been formed to implement the strategy. We will also work closely with the DOS and the Department of Commerce (DOC) on specific aspects of the plan, including the upcoming trade conference to be convened in November this year. We find DOC's far-sighted and innovative facilitation of trade and investment round tables, in association with their world trade councils, to be very effective. We will speak more on this area, as well as on the ongoing budget deliberations in the US Congress, given the importance of adequate funding for this new initiative in my next article.

- Audrey Marks is Jamaica's ambassador to Washington. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.