Thu | Feb 27, 2020

Brexit’s here, no need to fear - Jamaica to gain from pre-arranged UK agreement as British exit gets under way

Published:Friday | January 31, 2020 | 12:14 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

When the United Kingdom (UK) officially leaves the European Union (EU) at midnight, January 31, it will signal Britain’s exit from the European Union after a 47-year stay.

The new dispensation, as reiterated by UK High Commissioner Asif Ahmad, is one that must not be feared by Jamaicans as all CARIFORUM member countries, including Jamaica, will benefit from a pre-arranged agreement during what is known as the Implementation Period.

That period will last 11 months, ending on December 31, 2020.

“If as expected the period ends and the new era is effective from the first of January 2021, for this region, there is no moment of pause. We seamlessly flow into the member-partner agreement with CARIFORUM and the UK.

“At that time, the arrangements (Jamaica) has with the UK become bilateral arrangements from day one, and thereafter, it is down to us to agree how we develop the relations with the UK by itself,” said Ahmad during a question-and-answer session at the British High Commission’s office in St Andrew.

CARIFORUM, or the Forum of the Caribbean Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States, is the body that comprises Caribbean ACP States for the purpose of promoting and coordinating policy dialogue, cooperation, and regional integration, mainly within the framework of the Cotonou Agreement between the ACP and the EU.

Under EU rules, the UK was not allowed to commence trade talks with any country until they left the union.

Ahmad explained, however, that London acted “within the spirit of our intentions”.

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“I don’t think the EU can actually say we cannot speak to anybody about anything or related to trade. I think that’s absurd. But what we did was to respect it by saying the arrangement will not be triggered until we left.

“And even now, during the implementing period, our intention is to negotiate in parallel with the EU, with the US, Canada, Australia, all of the countries where we want to forge these new relationships,” he said, when pressed on the matter.

Ahmad said that with the special relationship the UK has with CARIFORUM countries, including Jamaica, particularly during the time the country chaired the group, they were able to persuade the bloc to operate on the basis that they could actually engage UK authorities to have this interim arrangement in place.

This was done, according to him, so as not to disrupt the trade flows of GraceKennedy, National Bakery, and others and the more than 90 per cent of the Dominican Republic bananas exported to the UK.

“It would be irresponsible of us to just leave these things flatly,” he said.

After Britain’s departure tonight, the UK will remain within the EU’s economic arrangements until the end of the year, though it won’t have a say in policy as it will no longer be a member of the EU.

Ahmad noted that the EU has been meeting and sending notifications to governments across the world, including the Government of Jamaica, which indicate that as soon as the implementation period is triggered, the arrangements that the UK has hitherto enjoyed, including trade, would continue over the duration of that period.

“Technically, the reason why it is the EU doing those meetings is that, quite rightly, you have to respect the rules of the club. The club is saying that we can continue to play using their facility under their rules for another period of 11 months, and it is their prerogative to say so and ours to agree that is what’s going to happen,” he said.

The European Parliament overwhelmingly approved Britain’s departure terms from the EU, the final major decision in the four-year Brexit saga.

The vote was 621 to 49 in favour of the Brexit deal that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson negotiated with the other 27 EU leaders in the fall of last year.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com