By Desmond Brown
This report is part of a series focusing on the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States working to “modernize” their relations. These involve “a greater presence” of the ACP Group at the United Nations. As a minimum, an ACP-EU coordination unit should have a seat at the UN, said a landmark resolution of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly held March 18-20 in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.– The Editor.
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (IDN) – The prospect of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, continues to loom large over the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries. If a no-deal Brexit happens in October, this could mean severe consequences for the ACP.
Sir Ronald Sanders – Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organisation of American States – says if Britain leaves the European Union with no deal at all, Caribbean countries have two separate kinds of trade arrangements to worry about.
“One is the Economic Partnership Agreement which exists with the remaining 27 member-countries of the European Union,” Sanders told IDN. This arrangement is the remnants of the Lomé Convention which won’t expire until 2020.
“Caribbean goods entering the European market under Lomé, will go in at the same terms that they have always done, however, the problem is that many of the goods that we used to export to the European Union, we don’t export anymore; at least not in any significant quantities. So, things like bananas for instance are out of the window.”
Caribbean countries have benefitted from their relationship with the European Union more in terms of the development fund and the monies the EU has been able to contribute to the region’s development, either through loans or grants.
The problem ACP countries will face going forward is that Britain will no longer be part of the European Union and therefore will not be a contributory country to the European Development Fund (EDF).
“To that extent, that money is going to diminish,” Sanders said. “That poses a problem because the Caribbean benefitted from what Britain puts into the EDF. So, there is going to be a problem there and I don’t suspect that the European Union is going to be able to keep up with the same level of funding, absent the United Kingdom which is one of the largest economies in Europe. So, we will have a difficulty there.”
While Caribbean countries will continue to access the European market for goods and Services under the European Partnership arrangement, the problem is, even though the region was exporting goods and services nominally to the European Union, for the Caribbean – except Trinidad and Tobago, most of that export was actually to the United Kingdom.
“Countries like Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and the Bahamas that don’t export any goods will have no problem at all because we are already exporting nothing and therefore have nothing to lose,” Sanders explained. The significant losers in CARICOM are going to be Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Belize.”
“So, there are going to be difficulties both with the European Union on the one hand which will be a diminished number of countries with a reduced amount of development assistance to put into our region. Then there’s Britain which itself will be a very diminished economy. And whether Britain can tie up free trade or economic development arrangements with countries such as the Caribbean and that are meaningful is a question that is up in the air.”
Sanders suspects that a diminished British economy, that’s far less rich than it is now, will have to concentrate first of all in building up its own domestic economy before it starts making giveaways and giving development assistance on concessionary terms to other countries.
In fact, Sanders, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto, believes Britain will be more interested in tying up deals with countries to which it can make exports rather than countries to which it will allow imports.
“So it will be looking to tie up deals with the United States, with India, with Japan, with China – countries that have big spending power. So I think we are going to slip in terms of interest by places like Britain and even for the European Union. We’re going to have to fight for that place and it’s going to be tough,” he said.
Junior Mahon, Director of Trade in Grenada’s Ministry of Finance, Planning, Economic Development and Physical Development is more optimistic.
He said the Caribbean Countries plus the Dominican Republic have concluded a CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement that will ensure continuity in trade between CARIFORUM and the UK.
“A number of CARIFORUM states signed the agreement on March 22 in St. Lucia. This agreement will ensure there is no disruptions in trade and the parties will continue to enjoy preferential access in each other’s market,” Mahon told IDN.
ACP needs to unite
Mahon said the ACP Group needs to continue to work together as a Group; continue to be proactive, and ensure that their interests are actively promoted in international fora especially the World Trade Organization.
“The [ACP] Group should ensure that their special circumstances are taken into consideration and that they are given special and differential treatment, so that they benefit from globalization,” Mahon said.
“The ACP achievements thus far can be attributed largely in part to the solidarity which existed and continues to exist among the regions. This is a partnership which can become a driving force in the international community.”
But Sanders is concerned about what he calls a lack of unity among the ACP countries.
“The ACP has not had its act together for a very long time. The African, Caribbean and Pacific group is being forced to be split apart by the European Union countries, which is how we ended up moving away from the Lomé Convention which we had negotiated together, into an Economic Partnership arrangement which has now divided in six – four in Africa and then we have the Caribbean and the Pacific,” he said.
“The unity that allowed us to have strength in the negotiations for Lomé, fell apart with the Economic Partnership arrangement. And unless the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries combine themselves together again into a single unifying force, the European Union countries are going to do what they’ve done with them in the past and that is to divide them.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 April 2019]
Photo: Sir Ronald Sanders, Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organisation of American States. Credit: Embassy of Antigua and Barbuda, Washington, DC.
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