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Editorial | Commonwealth underlines relevance

Published:Friday | August 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Should anyone doubt the relevance of the Commonwealth to small countries like those of its members in the Caribbean and why Jamaica has a stake in its continued revitalisation, there was ample evidence in Kingston last week.

The Commonwealth Secretariat launched a study, and broad consultations, on the likely impact of Brexit, the United Kingdom's planned secession from the European Union (EU), for Jamaica and other CARIFORUM members and, critically, how the region might be able to respond to the perceived threats.

It is not that this newspaper believes that Jamaica, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a group, or the Dominican Republic, with which it forms CARIFORUM, are incapable of engaging in this kind of analysis, or that they have not begun to think about the issue. Indeed, we have extremely high regard for the capacities of the technocrats in Jamaica's foreign affairs and foreign trade ministry, even if their best efforts are sometimes undermined by incompetent political action.

But notwithstanding the quality of available talent, Jamaica - as well as its partners in CARICOM - as a small, developing economy, is not blessed with a surfeit of trade analysts to adequately tackle the myriad tasks they are required to complete, much more the global issues facing the country. In the event, help from others, if the effort is rigorous and not self-interested, is not to be sneered at.


Economic Partnership


This report by the Commonwealth meets that test. Indeed, the analysis highlights, separately, Jamaica's declining exports to both the UK and the "other 27" EU members and the fact that Jamaica and CARIFORUM countries would lose the duty-free and quota-free access they enjoy with the UK under their Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU. Critically, though, it pointed to options for minimising the fallout in the short and long terms, including the employment of transition arrangements, ahead of negotiating a new trade deal with the UK and adjusting the one with the EU. Importantly, it provides simulations of what the dollar effect of these adjustments would look like.

But perhaps more significant to Jamaica, this study identifies 23 product groups, including global market analyses, in which the country could significantly lift its exports in a post-Brexit environment. "This assistance will help Jamaica meet its goal of trade diversification ... (and) meet the 2020 targets set out in its national export strategy," said Diane Edwards, the head of the Government's trade and investment promotion agency, JAMPRO.

Whether Ms Edwards' timetable is realistic may be moot, but she is right about the potential strategic effect of the Commonwealth's intervention and what has been the body's reassertion of its sense of community under its still relatively new secretary general, the Dominica-born former UK Cabinet minister, Baroness Patricia Scotland.

The Commonwealth is in many respects a unique organisation, its 52 members including advanced economies such as Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as middle-income and poor developing states, and small island economies. They are bound by a historical colonial link to Britain and the best of what that relationship bequeathed to today's sovereign nations.

For a long time, the Commonwealth leveraged this special relationship of countries that shared a common, though at times difficult to define, ethos. For the most part, there was no assertion of power by the group's developed nations over its emerging ones - an asset that made the Commonwealth a credible interlocutor on divisive global issues.

In the post-Cold War period, the Commonwealth lost its way. But in recent times, under Baroness Scotland's leadership, it has been redefining itself to meet the challenges of the day, such as global warming, the crisis of debt, and as last week's development in Jamaica highlighted, international trade. It is a resurgence that Jamaica and its Commonwealth Caribbean partners should seek to cement at the group's 2018 heads of government conference in London.