Caribbean 2020 Foreign Trade Policy Agenda
By Elizabeth Morgan
As work resumes, the Caribbean will have a full international trade policy agenda for 2020. As of January 1, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados assumed the Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for six months. St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues its year as Chair of the Caribbean ACP Forum (CARIFORUM) and will assume the Chair of CARICOM in July. Barbados is preparing to host the 31st CARICOM Intersessional Meeting of Heads, February 18-19, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines should be chairing the 26th CARIFORUM Council of Ministers video-conference next week. You may recall that this meeting should have been held in November prior to the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Both meetings, as relevant, will be considering the 2020 trade policy agenda which should include the following:
- CARICOM/Africa Relations – the convening of a CARICOM/African Union (AU) Summit and the opening of a CARICOM diplomatic office in Nairobi, Kenya. It appears that an office is also likely in Accra, Ghana. I am hoping for information about the administration and financing of these CARICOM offices;
- Transformation of the ACP Group – the ACP Summit Declaration should tell us more about the transformation of the ACP into an international organization, the Organization of ACP States, and the establishment of an endowment fund to provide financing. I expect that the CARIFORUM Council will now be reviewing the decisions taken in Nairobi;
- ACP/EU Post Cotonou Negotiations – guidance on the way forward for the ACP should have resulted from its Summit. The EU’s new budget, it seems, is still to be approved. I would expect a meeting between the lead negotiators, the ACP’s Robert Dussey and the EU’s Jutta Urpilainen to be held at the earliest opportunity. These negotiations are now scheduled to conclude in March prior to a joint ACP/EU Council Meeting possibly in April/May;
- CARIFORUM/EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) review – work on this five-year review is now in progress;
- Brexit– with Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party winning a substantial majority in the general elections, Britain should be leaving the EU on January 31. This means that the CARIFORUM/UK roll-over EPA could take effect on February 1 unless there is a transition period. Whether a Caribbean/UK forum meeting will be held this year remains a question;
- World Trade Organization (WTO), Kazakstan, June 8-11 – preparations will gather momentum for the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12). The challenges to the multilateral trading system are many. Jamaica remains the ACP coordinator in Geneva.
- Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference, Rwanda, June 22–26 – will be reviewing work on intra-Commonwealth trade;
- 15th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XV), Barbados, October 18-23 – Barbados, and indeed the region, will commence preparations for this global Conference.
- CARICOM/US Relations – with an impeachment trial and elections looming in the USA, among other recent developments, CARICOM must be concerned about the extension by Congress of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBPTA) which expires in September.
Taking account of activities in the United Nations related to the Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and the regional focus on CSME implementation, it is evident that Caribbean Heads, foreign and trade ministers, and officials will be kept fully occupied during 2020. To complicate the region’s participation in this agenda, we must bear in mind that general elections are due in several CARICOM countries during this year. These include St. Kitts/Nevis, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Elections are also due in Jamaica and St. Lucia early in 2021. The situation in Haiti is quite unstable with elections due by November 2021.
I am still of the view that as CARICOM Heads meet in February, they should be giving the 50th Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) a mandate to outline a regional foreign trade strategy and agenda. While CARICOM looks at its relations with Africa, it needs to also further consider its trade relations in the western hemisphere where its natural trading partners are located.
In the manner it has started, 2020 could be quite a year.
Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics