CARICOM/US Relations: new US management coming, but …

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By Elizabeth Morgan

The US elections, a truly historic event, were certainly high drama having many of us on the edge of our seats over several days. It certainly, in my view, was another epic struggle in the project called the USA, with conservatives versus liberals, rural versus urban, white versus black, capitalism versus socialism, rich versus poor, religious versus secular, and so on.  Ultimately, the struggle was for the US’ ideological direction, into an illiberal democracy or remaining a stable liberal democracy.  The voter turnout was the highest in a century, nearly 160 million people or 67% of registered voters, and the vote was very close showing a polarized society. The majority prevailed and have chosen to remain on a stable liberal democratic path. It seems, however, the drama may still not be over.

I congratulate Democratic President- and Vice President-elect, Joseph (Joe) Biden and Kamala Harris. Ms. Harris makes history by being the first American woman to be Vice President-elect and the first of colour, being the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India.

US’ Caribbean Policy 

With this change of administration coming in January 2021, we should not delude ourselves, however, that there will be any significant change in US foreign policy towards the Caribbean. We can continue to expect that US policy will be shaped primarily by concern about China’s influence in the region, the unstable situation in Venezuela, energy, security and immigration. I do believe that the Biden/Harris administration will engage with the Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic as the US as customarily done, bilaterally and as a region. I hope that they will not attempt to practice a policy of division.

As I indicated in my article last week on “USA/China: Leadership in the Multilateral arena”, Joe Biden will return the USA to the multilateral arena in US interest. It will be possible to engage with the US, to the extent possible, within the multilateral institutions. I believe that a Biden administration will be more cooperative especially on addressing COVID-19 and climate change. Engagement in the World Trade Organization (WTO) might be a bit more challenging considering customary US foreign trade policy under the Democrats.

It will be interesting to see who a President Biden appoints as his Secretary of State, UN Permanent Representative and the US Trade Representative. I expect that the State Department will be restored to its customary status and role.

Joe Biden is no stranger to the Caribbean. As President Barack Obama’s Vice President, he visited Trinidad and Tobago in May 2013 to meet with Caribbean leaders on a range of issues, promoting economic growth, citizen security, and energy. The message then was that the USA wanted to strengthen relations with the Caribbean. This action, of course, was motivated by the activities of Venezuela and China in the region.

In May 2016, then VP Biden presided over the US-Caribbean/Central America Energy Summit in Washington DC to examine advancing energy initiatives. This initiative had emerged from the visit of President Barack Obama to Jamaica in April 2015 during which he met with all CARICOM leaders as a group.

Trade

On trade, an instrument governing US/CARICOM trade, the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBPTA), was renewed through Congress in September for 10 years. The US Democratic Party has not been known for its enthusiasm for free trade, although some major agreements initiated by the Republicans were ratified, or negotiations continued, under Democratic Administrations. From his speeches, it seems to me that Joe Biden’s attention will be focused on US domestic issues – containing COVID-19, reviving the economy, creating jobs for Americans, expanding US exports. The people who carried him to the presidency in, e.g. Pennsylvania and Michigan, will be expecting him to keep promises to put Americans first.

The Trump Caribbean approach

Under President Donald Trump, in March 2019, a select group of five (5) CARICOM leaders were invited to meet with him at his Mar-a-Largo property in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss issues of interest. As under the Obama Administration, the US motivation was the issues of China and Venezuela. The selective invitation was seen as intending to divide and rule. Following from this, a delegation from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), visited these countries in May 2019 to explore investment possibilities. President Trump’s view was that the USA should only engage with those countries supporting US positions and interests. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visits to Jamaica and Guyana this year also signaled interest in regional and energy security.

So, new management in the USA may not result in any major changes in US/CARICOM Relations, but I do hope that the region will benefit from Joe Biden taking serious action to contain COVID-19 in the USA, being more cooperative in PAHO/WHO, helping to revive economies, and dealing with climate change.

Much of the world is looking forward to the return of the USA known in past years, hopefully with a change of attitude, a little more humility, given the exposure of its vulnerabilities over the last 4 years.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics (Also see me on Facebook)

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