Elizabeth Morgan | Absence of regional trade mainstreaming and policy, and negotiating an FTA with Africa
I have been reading some interesting reports and statements on regional trade by some prominent officials, former and present, within the region. The fifty-fifth session of CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) started in Georgetown, Guyana, on Monday, November 28. The Hon Alva Baptiste, minister of external affairs, international trade, civil aviation and diaspora affairs of Saint Lucia, is the chair of COTED. In his statement, he called for the mainstreaming of trade into the affairs of the Community seeing it as absolutely necessary. The CARICOM Secretary General Dr Carla Barnett, in her address, called for COTED to take the lead in shaping a 21st-century regional trade policy that responds to the current international realities. In addition, I read the address by former Prime Minister of Jamaica Percival James Patterson, calling for a high-quality and ambitious trade agreement between Africa and the Caribbean which would be the engine of economic growth between the two regions.
These are all matters which I have addressed in this column.
Mainstreaming trade into Jamaica’s development planning and taking a whole-of-government approach was proposed in the National Foreign Trade Policy. In my article of November 2, on growing Jamaica’s exports, I pointed to this and offered my opinion that this proposal was not being implemented in Jamaica. Evidently, it is not being implemented in CARICOM either. Mainstreaming trade has been proposed by UN bodies, such as UNDP and UNCTAD. The need to mainstream trade is reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Mainstreaming trade means ‘integrating trade into national development and poverty reduction strategies and operationalising trade coverage, including through incorporation of trade into sectoral strategies, action plans and budgets, intra-governmental and government-private sector relations, as well as government-donor relations’. Thus, trade must be part of the wider development framework. The COTED Chair does not think this is happening in CARICOM.
A 21ST-CENTURY REGIONAL TRADE POLICY
From 2019 at least, I have been calling for CARICOM to formulate a new trade strategy/policy. It seems that the CARICOM secretary general now believes that COTED should be looking at a new regional trade policy. The last time CARICOM looked at its trade policy and strategy was, perhaps, between 2001 and 2004, when it was preparing to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, the CARIFORUM/EU Economic Partnership Agreement, and the Canada/CARICOM free trade agreement. Recall that both the FTAA and the CARICOM/Canada FTAs were incomplete negotiations.
A PROPOSED AFRICA/CARIBBEAN FTA
This brings me to former Prime Minister Patterson’s proposal in his address published in The Jamaica Observer on Sunday, November 27, titled ‘Trade as engine of economic growth for Africa and the Caribbean’. I have written on CARICOM/Africa relations offering my opinion that this will not be an overnight thing even though it has potential. Former PM Patterson recognises challenges, e.g., transportation, logistics and infrastructure, but would like CARICOM to press ahead, in hope, to negotiate an FTA with Africa. On addressing the transportation issue, I did note the new Antigua and Barbuda airline venture, Antigua Airways, with business interest in Nigeria. I am not yet seeing the direct flight between Nigeria and Guyana or the return of the flight to Jamaica. Nor are we hearing any reports from Jamaica’s Africa investment envoy.
I would have preferred to see this FTA proposal coming from the regional private sector in a statement from the CARICOM Private Sector Organization (the CPSO) with support from national private sector bodies, such as the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association and Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association. This would indicate to us that the private sector is fully on board and is driving the process, as they should. I would also want to see Caribbean Export and national trade promotion organisations, such as Jamaica’s JAMPRO, sharing the enthusiasm.
I am asking whether CARICOM, which was unable to complete an FTA with Canada, and which has several trade agreements which are underutilised, should be rushing to propose negotiating an FTA with Africa. It is being signalled that trade is not mainstreamed and CARICOM does not have a 21st-century regional trade policy. In addition, the CSME, which should be the foundation for negotiating free trade agreements, is incomplete, and, in spite of all the recommitments since COVID, it is evident that not much is happening. The CARICOM secretary general, in her COTED remarks, stated that the update of the Common External Tariff (CET) and Rules of Origin (RoO) regime is still incomplete. This, I would think, would be a critical requirement in negotiating an FTA.
So, if the CSME and the CET/RoO regime are incomplete, trade is not mainstreamed; there is no regional trade policy; and the private sector does not appear fully committed; then should CARICOM governments be rushing to propose to the Africans negotiating an FTA? And, it would seem to me that it would be CARICOM governments proposing the negotiation of this FTA. We have been there before with Canada, and it did not work out so well. Just saying …
I would further say – CARICOM, get your house in order before contemplating the negotiation of any more comprehensive external FTAs.
Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org