I usually read with interest the articles of David Jessop, the head of a pro-Caribbean lobby group in the UK, who writes regularly in the region’s media on Caribbean issues. The article published on 17 October is however a departure from his generally well articulated and researched pieces. The segment on Europe is a cheap example of Eurobashing.
The Anglophone Caribbean has every right to seek diversification in its foreign policy and certainly the EU welcomes it. In fact there has traditionally been a lack of foreign policy diversification and a too heavy Anglophone Caribbean reliance on Europe and one of its key member states. That does not mean however that Europe is abandoning the Caribbean or has created a policy vacuum.
On the other hand, Caribbean countries may want to tread carefully; for instance, one of their southern neighbours making recent overtures to the region was also instrumental in forcing EU sugar regime reform through WTO action, thus causing ‘collateral damage for the Caribbean as Mr. Jessop has himself stated.
There is a lot of Euro-bashing going around and I would like to get a few things straight:
The 1975 trade preferences enshrined in the first Lome agreement in favour of ACP countries were the apex of EU trade preferences, more generous than the generalised system of preferences for non-ACP developing countries or for the UN Least Developed Countries. They were more generous than similar trade preferential schemes offered to Caribbean countries by other developed partners.
Unfortunately, the growth in exports from the developing world to the EU was from a group of countries that had less than maximum preference, essentially from developing Asia. The risk of ACP marginalisation on the EU market and the world trading system more widely influenced our change of approach with Cotonou towards a double strategy of facilitating regional integration among Caribbean countries and a gradual integration of preferences in a much wider Economic Partnership Agreement. Combined with generous development aid, this change is meant precisely to “develop significant alternative economic options that could take the region in new economic directions.”
As regards development aid, the Lome partnership has offered since 1975 the most generous aid package to the Caribbean, based on actual disbursements, not pledges. Here again, no other DAC donor outside the EU (Canada, Japan, Norway, USA), or a non-DAC donor like China, has come anywhere near our aid levels.
Despite recent backlogs in aid disbursements linked to changes in our financial regulation, we remain by far the number 1 grant donor in the sub-region. Most donors, including the development banks, are ‘graduating’ several Caribbean countries out of their aid programs, closing bilateral programs, focusing on smallish regional programs. Except us.
This generous aid package has also come to assist in the transition of the commodity sector, bananas first and, for the future, sugar. The export revenue shortfall in the banana sector has triggered since the 1980s very generous Stabex transfers. In 1999, we created in addition a 10 year special facility for bananas (1999-2008). For sugar, the Commission has proposed to our Member States a similar arrangement for 8 years (2006-2013).
The simple truth is that still today, the Windward Island banana producing countries are among the highest beneficiaries of EU aid on a per capita basis.
If Mr Jessop thinks it is not enough, I would welcome if he could point to another donor who has done more or better.
As Mr Jessop indicates, engaging the private sector is clearly the way forward for the Caribbean region and this is something on which I have worked since my arrival here by re-focusing our ‘banana money’ towards diversification. But I hope he will admit that the task is not easy. As the recent World Bank report ‘A time to choose’ indicates, Caribbean jurisdictions are not only very small, they are further fragmented by onerous regulations, licenses, that make life for a businessman who things regional very difficult.
The EU is fully supporting the CSME drive, but I do not think any slowness in its creation can be attributed to the lack of support by the EU. Mr Jessop is in a privileged position with access to first hand information and excellent contacts. He therefore is well versed with all the points I made above. If he wants to help build bridges between Europe and the Caribbean, which I believe he does, he should do it in a balanced and unbiased way.
Ambassador Amos Tincani
Head of EC Delegation in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean