COVID-19 redesigning the Foreign Trade Policy Agenda

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By Elizabeth Morgan

In my article on January 8, I outlined the Caribbean’s foreign trade policy agenda for 2020, but I certainly did not see COVID-19 on the horizon. With drastic global action to contain and mitigate the impact of this coronavirus, the foreign trade agenda now looks very different. Everything is in a tailspin as meetings are rescheduled or cancelled and timetables are thrown out. The focus has shifted to health and economic recovery. The foreign trade agenda now looks like this:

  • CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) – meeting of senior officials scheduled for April 2-3 postponed.
  • CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) – In my article of February 26 on Outcomes and Questions, I was doubtful that the CSME work programme emerging from the Intersessional Meeting of Heads in Barbados, February 18-19, could be completed. With COVID-19 and other issues, it is now clear that this work programme is not likely to be accomplished within the timeframe leading to the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference scheduled for July 2-3 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. As the agenda is reset, COVID-19 may actually convince CARICOM Members of their need to press on with CSME implementation.
  • ACP/EU Post Cotonou Negotiations – Like elsewhere, staff of the European Commission and the ACP Secretariat in Brussels are working from home and priorities are being reordered. Europe is a hotspot for COVID-19. Countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific are also battling this virus. Some work is continuing in the negotiations especially on the Caribbean protocol. I cannot, however, see the ACP Council meeting proceeding. It was scheduled for April/May possibly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The conclusion of the negotiations could be further delayed.
  • The CARIFORUM/EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) 5-year review – preparatory work is continuing but the EPA Council Meeting for the formal review is likely to be later in the year.
  • ACP Transformation – based on decisions from the ACP Summit, December 2019, the ratification of the revised Georgetown Agreement could be extended.
  • UK/Caribbean Forum, London – this overdue meeting was scheduled for April 7-8 and should have enabled the Caribbean and the United Kingdom (UK) to consider their post Brexit relationship. It was also postponed.
  • World Trade Organization (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) – this Conference was scheduled for June 8-11 in Kazakhstan – the host government has informed the WTO Director General of their desire to postpone this meeting. The WTO General Council is to take a formal decision. WTO staff and representatives in Geneva are also working from home.
  • The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Rwanda – this meeting is scheduled for June 22-27. Although also registering COVID-19 cases, Rwanda had indicated on March 10 that the CHOGM would proceed as scheduled. If the COVID crisis continues, a decision will have to be taken on whether it will be feasible to convene this meeting.
  • The CARICOM/Africa Summit is scheduled to be held around the time of CHOGM, so if that is rescheduled, it is likely that this meeting will be also.
  • CARICOM/US Relations – regarding the extension of the US Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBPTA), which expires in September, so far, there has been little progress in Congress, which is now mainly focused on COVID-19 and its economic fallout.
  • UNCTAD XV, Barbados, October 18-23 – for now, I am assuming that this Conference is still on track along with the UN General Assembly scheduled for September.

On January 1st, we welcomed 2020 intending to follow a set foreign trade policy agenda. One has to recognize, though, that foreign policy is fraught with the unexpected and unpredictable. In under three (3) months, that 2020 agenda was completely altered by an extraordinary global health crisis (refer to my article on the Trade and Health Link of March 18).  It is now evident that the economic fallout could be tremendous possibly triggering a global economic recession. Some analysts are projecting that the impact of this health and economic crisis could be felt through the year and could result in major policy readjustments. The course is uncharted. Here in the Caribbean, we have to pray for a calm hurricane season, June to November, or this Leap Year could be claiming a special place in history.


Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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