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Editorial | Stacking with BRICS

Published:Monday | August 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Better late, they say, than never. It has been four years since this newspaper first urged Jamaica and its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners to pursue "a deeper political and economic engagement" with the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - as part of this region's strategic widening of alliances against the dangers of a unipolar dependence.

At the time, the economies of the quintet, some of the world's largest and fastest-growing, had begun to slow. More important, two major destabilising events hadn't yet happened. Few could have conceived Brexit and neither had Donald Trump broken the horizon of America's politics. As it is, Britain is messily attempting to decouple from the European Union (EU). In America, Mr Trump is president, busy wielding a wrecking ball against global certainties.

So, last month in Johannesburg, in this new environment of instability, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, on behalf of CARICOM, addressed the BRICS summit, offering unassailable logic of a partnership between that group of emerging economies and CARICOM, including in combating climate change and maintaining a rules-based, multilateral trading system.


Global Warming


America is, by far, on a per capita basis, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, which all credible science concludes is the major factor in global warming. Mr Trump denies that the problem is primarily man-made. He pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which is aimed at mitigating rising world temperatures. This is an existential matter for Caribbean countries. For, as Mr Holness told the BRICS leaders, global warming makes the mostly small-island states of CARICOM "extremely vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters and severe weather events". The upshot: It makes sense for both groups to work together to promote compliance with the Paris Agreement, including the measures of mitigation support for the most vulnerable countries.

Climate concerns are critical, but it is not the only worry for this region. For instance, Britain's planned exit from the EU has created uncertainties for CARICOM over the future of its trade arrangement, the Economic Partnership Agreement, with the EU as well as the shape of a future trading pact with the United Kingdom.

Such concerns are exacerbated by Mr Trump's unilateralist approach to global trade. Concerned about America's half a trillion dollar deficit, he imposed tariffs on goods from China, the EU, Canada, and others, who he claims trade unfairly. Mr Trump's trade war is potentially damaging to the international economy, with small economies like CARICOM's, still struggling to emerge from the great recession of a decade ago, likely to suffer most.


Political Bridges


That is why, despite its concern that the Doha Round of global trade negotiations hadn't lived up to its promise of pursing the interests of developing countries, CARICOM embraced the BRICS' support for the World Trade Organization, based, as Mr Holness explained, on their need, "as small economies", for "a rules-based multilateral trading system to ensure transparency and predictability" - rather than Mr Trump's unilateralism. Indeed, the economic issues addressed by Mr Holness in South Africa also have political bridges, such as Mr Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which helps to make new thinking about the global order, and America's place in it, urgent.

Ironically, this engagement of the BRICS has echoes of Michael Manley's attempt nearly 40 years ago to promote new, more equitable global arrangements, albeit on a different, socialist-oriented economic foundation.

Indeed, there were Manleyesque tones to Mr Holness' Johannesburg remarks, with his references to the shared problems of the "global South", that will require partnerships to overcome. In this regard, we agree with Mr Holness that this was the start of an important engagement. But for real value, it has to be sustained.