Can SIDS yield any success?
TEN YEARS after a group of small, vulnerable nations met in Barbados to discuss the challenges being faced by small island developing states (SIDS), these countries are about to meet in Samoa next month to seek to influence the development agenda.
The meeting - the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States - will be held from September 1-4, in Apia, Samoa. Among other things, the SIDS aim to focus the world's attention on a group of countries that remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities. This year's conference is being held under the theme 'The sustainable development of small island developing states through genuine and durable partnerships'.
But notwithstanding the many meetings of the SIDS, one cannot help but wonder whether all of this is not merely an academic exercise that is unlikely to yield much success.
Ed Bartlett, the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, is among the sceptics, and one cannot blame him.
Contributing to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament in July, Bartlett said, "If we allow this opportunity to descend into a carbon copy of our previous efforts to promote commodity trading, over which we had little control above the primary stage, in order to get preferential treatment, we would be wasting a tremendous opportunity to turn around the economies of these SIDS nations."
For Bartlett, the SIDS have very little to show for their years of lobbying, which has primarily taken the form of begging a 'bly' because of particular vulnerabilities such as high debt and the risk of natural disasters.
While The Gavel is not prepared to write off attempts of getting favourable treatment as a waste of time, such efforts cannot continue to be a major pillar on which to construct any trade or developmental pact.
It is undeniable that Jamaica, like other SIDS, faces significant challenges. It may be to our benefit if we quickly acknowledge that this train is going nowhere fast. Take, for example, the issue of erosion of preferential market access, which is one of the most difficult challenges SIDS are faced with, as well as the importance of the relationship between trade and the environment, which are issues that have been on the to-do list since the Barbados conference. If this were cricket, I would be tempted to say that the SIDS can barely win an appeal despite the efforts.
One notes that Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister A.J. Nicholson has declared his intention to use his chairmanship of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee, a body that represents the views of small island developing states, to ensure that the peculiarities of such states are placed firmly on the global economic trade agenda.
"Not since the abolition of the slave trade has the issues of small island developing states received the attention at the global level on the economic and trade agenda," Nicholson said in the Senate recently.
He wants, for example, international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund to come to understand that countries like Jamaica should be singled out for special treatment. On the whole, he wants small island developing states to get things such as climate-change financing, debt relief and special facilities for addressing exogenous shocks.
For Jamaica's sake, The Gavel wishes the Government well, even while it's hard to see the efforts bearing fruit.
While Nicholson, and perhaps Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, prepares to journey to Samoa, let us hope that the Government does not lose sight of the importance of reconstructing the social and economic fabric of the country, and not put much hope in the panhandler approach of the SIDS.
Aside from reparations for slavery, we are owed nothing. We therefore have to seek to get the best out of our resources without jeopardising our own future.
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