Editorial: Good luck PM Browne

Photo taken from: writinglives.org

We wish Prime Minister Gaston Browne all the best with his new strategy of appealing to the United Nations for assistance with the long outstanding World Trade Organisation (WTO) arbitration award against the United States of America for Internet gaming. It has been 15 years! That’s right, 15 years of being ignored by the country with the largest economy in the world, an economy so vast that it is nearly incomprehensible, even when you attempt to use a reference.

At more than US$19 trillion, the Prime Minister pegged the U.S. economy at 20,000 times that of Antigua and Barbuda. He also assessed the compensation assessed by the WTO at less than 0.008 percent of one year of the U.S.’s [Gross Domestic Product] GDP. In contrast, PM Browne indicated that the damage done to our bit of paradise is approximately 20 percent of GDP.   The result, as so accurately described by the PM is, “No country can easily absorb that severe blow which hurts our economy, sets back our infrastructural development, and constrains the provisions of employment and advances in health and education.”

We already know that there are those who believe that we should not ruffle the feathers of the United States; more so, now that we are in their bad books by sticking to the decision to continue our friendship with Venezuela. They point to all the things that upset the United States, like our Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), and our decriminalisation of certain quantities of marijuana, and proffer that we should just keep our heads down and out of the line of fire. We understand the arguments, but we disagree. This is beyond being “nice” and keeping a low profile, hoping that the neighbourhood bully doesn’t see us and raid our lunch kit. This is about what is right – plus, we have been ‘nice’ for 15 years and what has it gotten us?

To get a better understanding of the hypocrisy and callous nature of the response from the United States to our WTO ‘win,’ we will take a short stroll down memory lane and back to the ‘Banana Wars’ of the 1990’s.

It was a turbulent time for Caribbean banana growers as the United States of America filed a complaint against the European Union (EU) because the latter allowed preferential treatment for the importation of bananas from the Caribbean. In an equitable world, that would be considered all right, but this ‘war’ was not about fairness. It was all about money and keeping developing nations down.

The U.S. complained that the EU was giving producers from former colonies in the Caribbean a special deal on access to the European markets and that violated the free trade rules that everyone agreed to. It made no difference that only a measly seven percent of Europe’s bananas came from the Caribbean, or that the U.S. did not export bananas to Europe. What mattered was that the U.S. multinationals, which control the Latin American banana farmers and already had a near-stranglehold on the European market, at over 75 percent share, wanted more; or more likely, all.

The end-result saw the WTO side with the United States and the end of the banana industry in the Caribbean. In essence, the United States weaponised the WTO against Caribbean banana farmers (and former colonies) and wiped them out. The history of those former colonies, alone, should have been enough for any country grounded in morality and a desire for fairness to let the status quo remain, but that mattered little when the almighty dollar was in play.

The U.S. ignored the very essence of the Caribbean EU banana quotas that had been in existence since 1975; quotas that allowed our farmers and economies to develop and become more self-sufficient, having to rely less upon handouts from our former colonial masters. Globally, the action was considered petty, but the U.S. held that it was the right thing to do as they argued for greater ‘free trade’ for American products in an effort to reduce U.S.A.’s trade deficit.

So, a country that had zero banana exports to the EU, complained to the WTO that the Caribbean banana farmers had unfair access to seven percent of the market and that needed to stop because it was infringing on free trade policies, and it was unfair to the dominant Latin American producers that already had more than 75 percent of the market in their pockets. Yup! The U.S.A. was quite happy to take that win at the WTO (and many others) but rejects ours in the gaming dispute.

Contrast that to today, where the United States has done a flip-flop and publicly rejected globalism (at the same United Nations) while embracing protectionism. With its U.S.A.-first policies and President Donald Trump threatening to withdraw from the WTO if the organisation does not “shape up,” we wonder what happens next? Will these former colonies and their people be left with all the sour and none of the sweet? Our banana industry is gone, our gaming industry is gone, and our offshore financial services industry is under threat and may soon be gone. So, if Donald Trump thinks that the WTO is not serving his country’s best interest, what would he say of ours?

In case you have not been keeping track of the tally, let’s do a bit of math. US$21 million for 15 years is US$315 million. Let’s say we were able to get five percent interest on that investment over the years, the total due to us would be US$453 million. That equates to almost one and a quarter billion Eastern Caribbean dollars. Yes, billion with a “B!” And to that, we say good luck PM Browne. You have our support on your quest.

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