David Jessop, Contributor
Nothing better illustrates how global power is being realigned than the list of nations that participated in the just-concluded G8 summit in Germany.
The meeting involved at its core the leaders of the world's most powerful states, the countries that account for more than one third of global economic activity: the United States, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada.
However, also present at many of the exchangeswere the heads of government of the world's foremost emerging economies: China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.
These are the states that will eventually come to challenge economically the existing world powers. They are the countries that neither want to be, nor for the most part, are wanted as full G8 members, yet that can no longer be ignored if progress is to be made on issues such as climate change, trade liberalisation and global security.
Where their growing involvement in informal dialogue appears to be leading is to finding a way of formalising the relationship other than through the enlargement of the G8.
Why this old world/new world relationship has emerged is because the G8 has realised that it can no longer be effective in its informal problem solving without also achieving the agreement or understanding of the five most important advanced developing nations. Put another way, this means that the G8 knows that it can no longer influence thinking within formal structures such as the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation without the agreement of the emerging powers.
What this suggests is the need for all states to rebalance their international relationships.
For much of the immediate post-independence period, the Carib-bean's thinking about its bilateral and multilateral ties was led by easily identifiable issues and requirements.
The east-west divide of the cold war emphasised the need for the West to retain a special trade and development relationships with the Anglophone Caribbean. London, Washington and Ottawa quietly maintained a high level of political exchange about the region and its stability and there were consequent certainties, exhibited for instance in the preferential trade arrangements contained in the Lomé Convention and in significant flows of European and North American development assistance.
Despite disagreement about detail and the permanent sense that the region was more comfortable with non-alignment, the relationship largely worked to everyone's advantage.
Today, this well understood if informal 'contract' has gone.
In its place there is no coherence. Policy towards the region is driven by the security of the old powers so that the containment of narcotics trafficking, money laundering and terrorism define policy towards Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname; energy security defines the relationship with Trinidad; and, economic refugees the response to Cuba and Haiti.
Beyond this the policy has become one of long-term homogenisation that for the purposes of trade sees Latin America and the Caribbean as one and to be offered roughly similar market access arrangements irrespective of size. It is an approach that also seems to envisage the encouragement of Brazil to become a and non-ideological pole in the Americas playing a role that is attractive to the old world in ways that Venezuela is not.
This may not make for comfortable reading in the Caribbean but these changes in the strategic thinking of the U.S. and EU go a significant way towards explaining why the region finds it so hard to attract the attention of traditional partners.
It suggests the need to develop a new diversified foreign policy that affords greater weight to New Delhi, Brasilia, Pretoria and Beijing and is linked more closely to its foreign trade, investment and development needs.
The Caribbean is justifiably strong on issues of principle and morality. It has articulated brilliantly the need for time and external support for its economies to adjust so that it does not lose economic advantage while encouraging the rise of newer industries. It has recognised the centrality of a Caribbean single market and economy to future success. It has largely achieved in international negotiations more than might reasonably be expected of a small and disparate group of nations.
Although its capacity to deliver on much of what has been agreed with those outside the region remains limited, change is occurring, albeit at a pace that is painfully slow. The consequence isthat many of the regions economies are being renewed and there is a sense that services, together with a modern, rationalised and integrated agriculture sector with luck may underwrite acceptable levels of future prosperity.
Entering new markets
In this and to succeed it needs to think globally if it is to enter new markets, and attract new investment and visitors.
In a matter of days, Caribbean heads of government will meet with President Bush in Washington. The summit follows from encounters with the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Most attending privately accept that the timing is not propitious given the President's and the Republican Party's diminished political capital. While the region wants to focus on closer U.S. engagement with the region's concerns about trade, development, migration and crime, the recent alleged 'Caribbean' terrorist conspiracy against the U.S. threatens once again to turn the dialogue with Washington into one about security.
Those ministers and regional officials I have spoken to suggest that the real value of the Washington encounter will come in through the broader exposure the region and the private sector will have to Congress, the Democratic Party and black Congressional leaders. However, they also convey - in sorrow rather than anger - a sense that the U.S. relationship, while being the one that is most important to the region, has ceased to be dynamic and lacks the substance that led, for instance, to the creation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Major investments and exports apart, the U.S., they suggest, has become disengaged.
The Caribbean's encounter in Washington is long overdue. It may have the unintended consequence of indicating how far and how fast the region should reorient its international relationships.
David Jessop is director of the Caribbean Council. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org