Caribbean Leaders Weigh-in on Brexit
By Marcia Forbes, Ph.D.
Brexit is not Cricket
Business people often have a different point of view from academics; however, at the UWI forum regarding Brexit and its implications for the Caribbean, everyone agreed that this is not a time to sit on the sidelines and simply watch the play. For the Caribbean, Brexit cannot be a spectator sport. This is not Cricket!
There was consensus that the region must actively seek out its best interests in this unexpected scenario of the UK having voted to leave the European Union (EU), a referendum decision that has cast the United Kingdom in financial and social disarray.
Look to the ACP
Moving forward, economist Dr Damien King noted that there is now urgent need for Caribbean people to take greater control of their own destiny. Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles sees strengthening the region’s ties with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping as important to the region’s future.
The ACP is a composition of 79 states comprised of 48 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, 16 from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific. Together in June 2000 they signed the Cotonou Agreement (also known as the ACP-EC Partnership Agreement) that ties them to the European Union (except for Cuba who did not sign but is a part of the ACP group). The primary purpose of this agreement is to help poor countries buffer the ravages of globalization and poverty.
On February 29, 2020, less than four year’s time, the Cotonou Agreement is scheduled to expire. A successor agreement is slated to be negotiated before 2018. This is a good time for the Caribbean to fast-track such an agreement, taking into account new realities of changed and changing economies with emerging and existing vulnerabilities.
Capital Flight & Remittances
As the UK begins to experience fallout from its Brexit vote, the only thing certain is change and a certainty of uncertainty now pervades. Ambassador Richard Bernal highlighted the nervousness of investors, noting that “uncertainty is the enemy of economic expansion” as he pointed to a shift from sterling and British financial papers since the Brexit vote.
Dr. Dana Dixon of Jamaica National, a company with extensive experience doing business with Jamaicans in the Diaspora, addressed some of the early backlash to Brexit such as the $2 Trillion wiped off from Global Stock Markets and Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the UK’s credit rating.
More specific to this region, Dr. Dixon highlighted the contribution of remittances to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Caribbean’s poorest countries Haiti, Guyana and Jamaica, 21.2%, 17.3% and 16.7%, respectively. She humanized these percentages when she talked about Caribbean people in the UK holding back sending money home in light of their new uncertainties. A falloff in remittances seems likely from Brexit.
Tourism versus Exports
With a move away from traditional exports like sugar and banana, the Caribbean has been marketed and has become a prime destination for tourists from the United Kingdom. British arrivals to Jamaica are among this island’s largest number of tourists. Tourism ties with remittances as Jamaica’s top sources of revenues.
Then too, consider the possible plight of a country like Barbados where tourists from the UK contribute the lion share of their arrivals, and too the fact that British tourists spend more per person than other tourists. As CARICOM exports to the UK fall, 15.9% less in 2015 compared to 2014, tourism has helped to pick up some of the slack as a significant earner of foreign exchange.
With mass bombing across many parts of the world, including high-traffic tourist centres, travel becomes plagued with uncertainty. Suicide bombers aside, we know that Jamaica has been blacklisted by countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK in light of its continued and growing crime problem. Its tourism future therefore looks shaky, as does that of the wider region.
Jamaica’s CARICOM Review Commission
Charting a course for the Caribbean via a different type of relationship with the European Union during and post Brexit offers new possibilities and opportunities based on lessons already learnt. Jamaica’s CARICOM Review Commission has a critical role to play in helping to forge the way forward for the region. Its 18 members, described by Chairman, Former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, as “a formidable team”, comprise 3 women and 15 men. We wish this team well and are hanging some of our hopes for the region on their shoulders.
Frankly though, while any cursory review of the bona fides of the three women – 1) Former Education Minister and Member of Parliament, now Commissioner Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission, Maxine Henry-Wilson, 2) President of the Jamaica Exporters Association, Mrs. Michelle Chong and 3) Professor Eleanor Brown, Professor of Law and Former Senior Executive Caribbean Investment Fund – is impressive, the same rigour for selection does not appear to have been applied to some of the men.
More importantly, this “formidable team’ seems devoid of youth representation as all its members are over 40 years of age. Something does not compute. Across CARICOM countries those 35 years and under make up about 70% of the population. Hasn’t Brexit taught us anything about the generational divide in how we see and chart the future? Hello PM Holness, perhaps two of the old men on the Commission could make room for two youth (one female and one male), and what about including ‘exploring opportunities’ and ‘charting a new course for CARICOM’ in the Terms of Reference?
Dr Marcia Forbes, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and former Permanent Secretary in Jamaica’s Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications and later the Ministry of Energy and Mining. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and the recently-released Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.
Follow Dr Marcia Forbes on Twitter: @marciaforbes