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EDITORIAL - Seek economic ties with Russia

Published:Tuesday | June 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

It has inspired little or no official attention in Kingston or other Caribbean capitals, perhaps because policymakers are skittish over the stand-off between the West and Russia caused by the Ukraine affair.

But when Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders engage in a major foreign-policy review at their summit next month, they ought to pay serious attention to the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU), to be formally launched in Jamaica and for which the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus formally signed the agreement last week. Or, more to the point, CARICOM should think seriously of strategies for engaging this emerging entity and potentially significant economic powerhouse. If CARICOM is slow in the process, Jamaica should not feel itself constrained by the pace of the Community.

For in its search for economic development, it is in Jamaica's interest to encourage the emergence of a multipolar world and not feel itself hobbled by geopolitical interests.

Clearly, it is not in this region's, or anyone's, interest that there should be a new Cold War, the likelihood of which, though having receded a bit in recent weeks, remains a possibility in the face of the pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine that followed the overthrow of the Viktor Yanukovych regime in Kiev. Nor can Jamaica and other CARICOM members be oblivious to their geographic locations, the US interest in many of their countries, and the special relationship, historically, that the region has enjoyed with the United States, Canada and European partners.

But this friendship does not preclude either side pursuing its own best interests, which, in the case of Jamaica and its CARICOM partners, means pulling their economies out of stagnation and underdevelopment. And especially in the circumstances where, in the past decade and a half, the US, despite its sporadic rhetorical embraces of the region, has seemed distracted from the Caribbean.

NOT WORTH A MENTION

Indeed, it wouldn't have surprised Jamaica's foreign ministry and others in the region that Latin America, much less the Caribbean, hardly earned a mention in President Barack Obama's foreign-policy speech at West Point last week. The White House and the State Department will probably argue that it wasn't the president's aim to delve into the minutiae of America's relations with specific countries or regions. Rather, Mr Obama offered a philosophical overview of how he perceives America's place in the world and the bases on which the US should project its power.

But neither can the region put its economic and other development on hold, awaiting an American reset of its relations with the Caribbean, or feel itself hostage to the geopolitical considerations of Washington. Our expanding economic relations with China - the rhetoric over developments in the South China Sea, notwithstanding - provides a template for how we might proceed.

In that regard, it is worth noting that the three ex-Soviet states that make up the EaEU, combined, represent an economy of US$2.7 trillion, and control 20 per cent of the world's gas reserves and 15 per cent of its oil. The group is set to expand in a region that is a natural bridge between Europe and Asia.

We, at this time, trade little with Russia, although a Russian entity controls the bulk of Jamaica's alumina-refining facilities. That provides a toehold which we should seek to expand.

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