By Elizabeth Morgan
There have been several articles in the regional press in recent weeks speculating about the United Kingdom and Caribbean relationship after leaving the European Union (EU) scheduled for October 31 (Brexit day). The Caribbean should be examining its relationship with the UK post Brexit. I wish though to bring another perspective to this discussion.
The UK/Caribbean Forum, aimed at strengthening cooperation between the UK and Caribbean countries, meets biennially, but has not met since 2016. It is now not likely to meet until 2020 when the political situation in the UK, hopefully, will be more stable and predictable. Currently, as October 31 approaches, the British political situation is most unsettled and it does appear that general elections are on the horizon.
This does not mean, however, that the UK administrations have not been considering their relationship with the Caribbean countries. Since 2016, there have been high level contacts between Foreign and Trade Ministers at the bilateral, regional, Commonwealth, African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), and United Nations (UN) levels.
Over the next four weeks, though in a climate of uncertainty, there should be opportunities for engagements at the UN General Assembly, where there will be a Summit on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), New York, September 24-25, and at the Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting, London, October 10.
In October 2018, the Guyana Chronicle reported that British High Commissioners to Guyana, Barbados/OECS, and Trinidad and Tobago, then meeting with the former Vice President of Guyana, Carl Greenidge, were part of a team working on a strategy to strengthen UK/Caribbean relations.
This indicates that the British High Commissioners in the region have a mandate to develop a Caribbean strategy.
An August 12 press release from the UK Department of International Trade (UK DIT) reported that it hosted an event in Bristol in partnership with the Caribbean Development Bank and the Caribbean Council showcasing opportunities in the region for UK companies, including Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), in energy, infrastructure and other sectors.
Recall that in March, the UK and the ACP Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) members signed the continuity Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to ensure trade under preferential terms post Brexit.
Bilaterally, the UK has been moving to strengthen its engagement with individual Caribbean countries, particularly Guyana.
The UK Department of International Development (DFID), in its Caribbean profile, states that the UK sees the Caribbean as a key partner and indicates that it will continue development support focusing on specific UN SDGs – (7) affordable and clean energy; (8) decent work and economic growth; (9) building sustainable and resilient infrastructure; (13) promoting climate action; and (16) fostering peace, justice and strong institutions. The UK has keen interest in reducing crime and in promoting trade and business opportunities.
Interestingly, DFID states, “As we leave the EU, we will strengthen bonds with the Commonwealth Caribbean, with DFID providing UK aid to poorer countries.” This could be a reference to the high and upper middle income status of Caribbean countries. DFID’s emphasis on opportunities for UK businesses and trade seems to be highlighting trade over aid.
The UK also has to determine how it defines the Caribbean, whether it is the Commonwealth Caribbean (only the Anglophone Caribbean), CARICOM (which includes Haiti and Suriname), or CARIFORUM (which includes the Dominican Republic).
So while former UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, did not visit the Caribbean as she did Africa, the UK has been making progress in designing a post Brexit strategy for its relationship with the Caribbean.
On the Caribbean side, focus has been on concluding the continuity trade agreement, with some bilateral contacts and expressions of interest. What is not clear is whether the Caribbean is actively developing its strategy for engagement with a post Brexit UK (Global Britain) pending convening of the UK/Caribbean Forum.
(Elizabeth Morgan, who writes for CMC, is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics).