Brexit fears unfounded - UK has no plan to disrupt existing agreements after leaving EU says new high commissioner
As the region prepares for any possible fallout after the United Kingdom (UK) pulls out of the European Union (EU), new British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad has sought to allay fears of disruption and chaos in the wake of Brexit.
The region has, at the most, two years to formulate a plan for dealing with the consequences of the Brexit, but three weeks into his new posting in Kingston, Ahmad told The Sunday Gleaner that the UK has no intention of disrupting any existing trade agreements with Jamaica after it leaves the EU.
"Everything that I have been told directly about Jamaica and the Caribbean ... by the prime minister, the trade, financial aid and defence secretaries (and) they all stood up one after the other telling us what our marching orders were, the first instruction was that we get the message across that we are globally minded ..," said Ahmad.
"The second one is that our default position is of free movement of goods and services, hence our free-trade agenda, and that's why our most difficult negotiations are with our European Union partners themselves, who have a huge chunk of our business connections, almost 50 per cent, whichever way you look at it," added Ahmad.
Once Brexit becomes official Britain will have no formal trade agreements with any country, having made all its trade deals through the EU.
This means it will have to negotiate trade deals with the remaining 27 EU members, its biggest trading partner.
Pointing to Briton's trade deficit with the EU, Ahmad said European manufacturers have a huge interest in the success of existing business arrangements.
"The way in which our prime minister is setting out her stall, she has said this very recently in Japan, which is one of our trading partners, is that we start from the basis that existing arrangements are rolled over. Whether its EPA (Economic Partnership Agreements) or FTA (free-trade agreement) or whatever, we are not looking at a scenario where anything will get worse," said Ahmad.
"So we start with where we are. Where we have the freedom is that we no longer have to negotiate as a bloc with a country like Jamaica.
"So what does it mean? It means that I can come and talk to your ministry here about imports of British meats. I think we can go back to some of those big issues from 43 years ago, without making any promises about the sugar regime or bananas, the agricultural sector.
"We are not giving up on our sanitary requirements. But I think the politics of trade changed," added the high commissioner.
He said no new agreements can be made with any EU nation until Britain has finally left it.
Debate and adoption of the Great Repeal Bill, being discussed in the UK now, will pave the way for direct discussion towards bilateral agreements with Jamaica.
The export of British beef to Jamaica is currently still banned, as is the export of tinned cheese to the EU from Jamaica. These are among the agreements which could be revisited post-Brexit.
Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister with responsibility for Jamaica, is scheduled to visit Jamaica shortly, and the high commissioner told our news team that already Lord Tariq has tasked him to examine why British investment and trade with Jamaica and the Caribbean have not grown.
The high commissioner also pointed out that security and intelligence sharing agreements reached pre-Brexit will not be affected as this is part of a global fight against criminal activity.