Stimulate us with frankness

English: Central Bank of Barbados Building, Br...

English: Central Bank of Barbados Building, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barbados is the one of the few countries in the world where the population will barely murmur when a political party implements a policy that it condemned a few weeks earlier. Perhaps this speaks to our docile nature but I believe it is either an indication of the very low premium we put on trust and accountability from our politicians or it relates to our hunger for material benefits dispensed by politicians. We’re afraid to offend.
I’ve reached that conclusion following the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) introduction of a Bds. $355 million stimulus package in its March 18 Estimates of Government Expenditure and Revenue for 2013-14 fiscal year. Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler said government anticipates that this new stimulus package and the Bds. $300 million from traditional estimates will provide an injection of Bds.$600 million in capital works spending that will improve the local economy and create at least 1,000 new jobs.
I like that, jobs and economic improvement but that does not close my mind to the wider issue or calm my worrying concerns!!! FOUR short weeks ago earlier, during the general elections campaign the DLP cautioned us, voters, against supporting the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) pointing out that their proposed $45 million stimulus spelt destruction to our small import-dependent economy.
In fact on February 7th Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick speaking at the height of the General Elections campaign said if BLP’s stimulus policies were “ever adopted, it could lead to a devaluation of the Barbados dollar.”
“If you allow Owen Arthur (the then opposition leader) to practice the policies of stimulus we will have a balance of payments crisis. The IMF’s first prescription is devaluation, and its second is sending home people,” Dr. Estwick warned.
In addition, I’d read where Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr DeLisle Worrell said ‘unequivocally’ that government stimulus could not create sustainable growth in the economy. That was in January when the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) were promoting the need for a stimulus to increase consumer demand.
Dr. Worrell said there was no quick fix to Barbados’ sluggish economic performance adding that growth must be private sector led with the focus on improving competitiveness. He is not a politician but rather an objective voice and an experienced economist. I  trust his views on this plus Professor Michael Howard, who is well-known for his work in public finance called it ‘economic madness’. Therefore their views strengthen the weight of what the DLP was saying for many people not schooled in economics.
It is therefore reasonable and nationalistic to demand an explanation for the DLP’s ‘switch-mout” action and to get a comment from the Governor about the $600 million or at least the $355 million portion. Professor Howard has already spoken on the matter and has not wavered on his opinion but the Governor has so far steered clear of the issue.
The parliamentary opposition should be happy over a stimulus at least from the perspective that it gives them boasting rights for tabling the prescription.  They are unlikely to say much of the  DLP’s change-of-tune since jobs were mentioned and the sitting BLPites  will be wary of any comments that their opponents can twist to suggest they are against job creation.
But as citizens, Barbadians have to ask the DLP for a reasoned clarification about their policy switch; an explanation not tightly woven in a web of jargon. At least the administration should reconciled their reasons for vehemently decrying the opposition Barbados Labour Party’s small stimulus package yet introducing a package, at least eight times bigger. Is this bigger one less likely to trigger devaluation?
The dividing issues, I believe are the difference in the size, the BLP’s proposed Bds. $45 against the DLP’s $355 million; and the direction of this spending with the DLP targeting capital works against the BLP’s aim at diversification of the country’s health and education systems.  Perhaps, another question which could be asked is whether DLP post-election stance was influenced by some development in the world or country’s economy and financial position, though I doubt any significant shifts took place in that short time frame.
The situation, however, demands answers and when governments fail in this respect, people generally look to the fourth estate (the media) to present vigorous and focused interrogation of the topic. Our state-owned television station had a little morning chit-chat on the subject and I waited for some facts that would speak to a reconciliation of government’s before and after general elections’ position.
No direction came from that source except to say that we need to involved thinkers to come up with creative ideas. Cheese-on-bread!!! We have been engaging thinkers for decades. The country has files of suggestions and plans that if converted to digital would burst cyber-space. Moreover, government has already earmarked capital works and the DLP-proclaimed get-it-done minister, Michael Lashley is gearing up to start his Bds. $80 million road building programme in July. CBC promises to go a little deeper in another segment, so I have hope.
The Nation newspaper in its editorial  pointed at the divide by noting that “given the slow growth of the economy; a stimulus package seems desirable, though there will be contrary opinions as to the efficacy of the kind of stimulus proposed by the Government as opposed to the stimulus aimed more directly at putting money into the pockets of consumers, which more accords with the Opposition’s proposals.”
My DLP friends, who debate the subject using a hit and run mode, speak in similar vein by noting that BLP’s programme would encourage consumer spending and as we all know given the openness of our economy, this means imports and a drain on our foreign reserves. My follow-up question to them is whether Bds. $45 million will put a greater strain on the country’s scare foreign reserves than Bds. $600 directed at capital works. That is a question, not an opinion.
“More jobs, strong multiplier effect and increase capacity,” they answer and run.
But I am unease about the situation. At his swearing-in ceremony, (yes, that early) Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said: “We have to take some initiatives here which do not imperil our foreign exchange position but, at the same time, give a little life to what is going on locally at the business level and put consumers in a position where, by their spending, they can stimulate business activity and so on.”
“So these are priorities and of course fortuitously and fortunately we have the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure to be debated in two or three weeks time and during that debate the Minister of Finance and myself will be talking through some of those issues so that the country will be clear where it is we intend to go over the next few months.”
To me that was a broad hint of a stimulus package and suggests the DLP perhaps held the idea during the general elections campaign, so why wasn’t it revealed to the public? Why ridicule the opposition’s smaller packer when you could’ve hyped yours as of superior quality and quantity? In the reverse, if it is an afterthought, then are we to assume that the government’s package was or wasn’t rigourously analysed?  How many more similar change of plans can we expect?
Generally though, people are saying they are not concern neither are they surprised by things politicians do because everyone knows that general elections are about getting elected or re-elected depending on where you are sitting. They say campaigning has little or nothing to do with honestly-held beliefs and more to do with saying what the people what to hear in a believable way.
Therefore many like Pontius Pilate say they’ve washed their hands of this ‘switch-mout’ behaviour in a bid to keep their jobs or place in the winner’s crowd even if they have lingering concerns that this route could kill Barbados’ economy. For me, I have listened to recent Senate debates and if I’ve learnt only one thing from the government benches it is that the DLP administration is practicing the politics of explanation, so I am holding my breath waiting for a reasoned clarification on this stimulus package.
Let me emphasis, my point is not whether the stimulus is beneficial or not but I am looking at the wider issue. Were you upfront with Barbadians regarding this matter of stimulus? Has the devaluation threat disappeared?
Barbadians have seen and felt the effect of devaluation through the experiences of their friends and relatives in Jamaica and Guyana and as they do business in those countries which are large compared to Barbados and superior given their natural resources. These countries were into socio-economic despair as they fought to drag themselves out of what seems to be the sinking sands of currency devaluations under the International Monetary Fund’s thumb. Barbados, a tiny dot that slipperily depends mainly on tourism, cannot bear currency devaluation; it is so heavily dependent on imports, therefore the DLP general elections’ warning about devaluation was scary then and it remains scary.
If we are taking that risk in a ditch to make things better, tell us. What policies are you imposing to ensure that the country achieves the delicate balance or manageable imbalance between foreign exchange earnings and spending? That perhaps, is the true price tag of this stimulus package which may help us ‘buy jobs and economic growth’.

United States may strong hold Antigua

The probability is high that the United States will stop companies in the hi-tech industries that have US connections from investing in Antigua & Barbuda or use some other tool of economic aggression against Antigua. This is my fear but fear should not cause a country to buckle, it is only through courage and sacrifice that battles are won.

I have no proof of what will be the US’s action but I believe economic aggression is possible after analysing the tone of the Washington’s recent comment about Antigua within the analogous framework of the US’ dealing with Cuba when that Caribbean nation refused to behave according to the US dictates, that is accept western-style democracy.

Washington enacted the economically aggressive Helms-Burton Act which had the potential to derail the then President Fidel Castro’s efforts to attract foreign investors to help revive his country’s faltering economy. Whether you like Cuba’s ideology or not, the lesson to all is that Cuba did not buckle under the Helms-Burton weight but remained resolute in its conviction that its style of governing was the right one.

The Helms-Burton Act was signed in 1999 under Democratic President Bill Clinton. Now in 2013 with another Democratic President Barack Obama at the helm, Antigua & Barbuda, a smaller Caribbean country is ignoring the US wishes and is ready to impose sanctions against US intellectual property (IP) to recoup $21 million annually in losses that resulting from the US’ closure of its online-gambling market. Antigua & Barbuda was granted approval last week by the World trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend US intellectual property claims, allowing Antigua to sell movies, music, games and software while ignoring US copyright and trademark claims. But this has riled up US trade officials and sections of its entertainment industry are suggesting that the US use economic mechanisms as leverage to get Antigua to reverse its plan.

But Antigua isn’t doing anything wrong. It is doing what the United States does all over the world and sometimes for stated national reasons which only a microscope can reveal.

Antigua is only defending its national interest and like any other country would do, it is using the weapons most capable of achieving success. High Commissioner to London Carl Roberts said “(Antigua has) followed the rules and procedures of the WTO to the letter. Our little country is doing precisely what it has earned the right to do under international agreements.”

From the outset, the small Caribbean island was doing just that. First it used an opportunity under the WTO-administered General Agreement in Trade of Services (GATS) to host internet gambling casinos that targeted US consumers. In 2003, after the US closed them down, Antigua took the case to the WTO, which obligated Washington to reopen that market. The US refused, arguing that it had unintentionally committed to opening that market to cross-border trade but that internet gambling ran counter to its domestic policies on public morals and public order.

The WTO judged that St. John’s suffered US$21 million annually in losses from the closure and could use trade barriers to collect the sum. Finding an appropriate method for a small open economy to use against an economic giant, such as the United States, that does not comply with a WTO ruling is problematic.

In fact, large industrialised WTO members are unlikely to be negatively affected by the suspension of the trade concessions in goods and services implemented against them by smaller less developed countries. It is more likely the said retaliatory measures will backfire and significantly harm the economy of the developing country. Therefore, such suspensions were not seen as effective in getting developed countries to comply with rulings made against them that favoured developing countries.

This thinking is applicable in the case of Antigua versus the US. The US is the main source of imports into that small economy (33 per cent in 2011) as well as the leading destination for its exports (39.8 per cent in 2011). On the other hand, Antigua is not ranked among the top ten of US import sources or export destinations, its contribution to the US’ exports and imports is minuscule. Therefore if St. John’s places trade barriers to imports of goods and services from the US, the availability of essentials could become uncertain or non-existent to the detriment of Antigua and prices are likely to rise significantly.

“For many developing countries, suspension of concessions in (Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) TRIPS or (General Agreement on Trade in Services) GATS may represent a valuable alternative option when it is not practical or effective for them to rely on standard retaliation. This is often the case due to the unbalanced nature of trading relations and the asymmetry in economic power.”

As in the case with Ecuador versus the EU, the WTO therefore allowed TRIPS cross-retaliation in the Antigua/US case. Those are the rules and Antigua followed them.

Yet Washington’s spokeswoman Nkenge Harmon issues a warning.

If Antigua does proceed with the unprecedented plan for its government to authorize the theft of intellectual property; it would only serve to hurt Antigua’s own interests,” she said.

Government-authorised piracy would undermine chances for a settlement.  It also would serve as a major impediment to foreign investment in the Antiguan economy, particularly in high-tech industries.”

A frightening statement when one considers US hegemony -its political, economic and military resources compared with puny Antigua & Barbuda.  Already, as is  expected, the big voices in Intellectual Property (IP) industries are using their might to advise their government how to coerce Antigua in watering down its defence. .

Michael Schlesinger, a lawyer for the International Intellectual Property Alliance said “if Antigua moves forward, we will work to ensure that its eligibility to participate in any U.S. trade assistance or benefit is withdrawn.”

In similar vein, executive director for international intellectual property at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Gina Vetere, said that Antigua’s action will sour the business environment and reduce government revenues in the long term.

“Any action that endorses IP theft would not only undermine any chance at resolving the dispute, but also come at great expense to Antigua and Barbuda.”

IP theft? Piracy? These are questionable descriptions. Why then is imposition of tariff on goods as a trade sanction not theft of trading rights?”

Cross retaliation using IP is special and is perhaps the only way out for tiny country in battle with large countries. The strategy rests on reasons upheld by experts who’ve advised that the sector within an offending country that is best suited for the imposition of sanctions, is one that is either vulnerable or has enough political clout to pressure decision makers to be compliant with the law. St. John’s plan seems to parallel this notion and therefore may be intended at getting filmmakers and recording artists to pressure the US Congress to re-open the US market to Antigua’s on-line gambling operators.

Comments from Antigua’s officials seem in agreement with this view. For example, the country’s Minister of Finance, Harold Lovell, said that they were still prepared to talk with the US regarding an agreement that would respect the WTO decision. Though not explicitly stated, Lovell was referring to the initial WTO rule that the US re-open its on-line gambling  market, which Antigua estimated was worth over US$3.4 billion annually to its economy and was the country’s second largest employer.

Rather than allowing the restart of the remote gaming industry, the United States seems ready to drag this David & Goliath battle significantly longer than the ten years and will fight against Antigua’s imposition of sanctions. It has the financial, media and political resources to wage a bruising battle longer than having a remote gaming industry will be practical for Antigua.

General Counsel for the office of United States Trade Representative (USTR) Timothy Reif who said “… the US government, obliviously cannot allow any WTO decision to be distorted into a license for piracy,” is still talking about getting negotiations back on the right track but there seems to be a big divide between the two countries that augurs against a speedy settlement.

Reif described his government’s offer to Antigua as “a fairly wide ranging package of other kinds of steps that would allow Antigua to create as many as or more than jobs that they expected to lose as a result of the internet gaming decision.”

But the Antiguans don’t believe that the US made any important strides towards settlement. Its high commissioner to London Mr. Carl Roberts explained that “if you make offers and the offers are not accepted that means you have not touched the core of the problem.”

But the US will fight tough because more is at stake that is dangling from Antigua’s end. Antigua’s lead attorney Mark Mendel, warned that Antigua’s cross-retaliation plan could have broader repercussions.

“If we do something inventive that could pose a lot of problems for intellectual property holders. If we create that precedent, the consequences could be enormous.

“With Antigua, it’s $21 million. Maybe with China it’s going to be U.S. $21 billion. One of the messages we want to get across is that the WTO was sold to smaller countries as a level playing field and a way for them to expand the reach of commerce, subject to a set of rules that apply to everybody.”

The US will not be swayed by the desire for a level playing. It is accustomed to flexing hegemonic muscles and getting its way especially with small states. It will fight hard and is likely to use its power to Antigua in line even if it means following the advice of people in its entertainment industry who are suggesting the cutting off any trade assistance, aid or grant programme now extended to Antigua. This is a case for all CARICOM to watch and give Antigua its support. The Caribbean community/rum battle is heating up and lessons here will be instructive.

If the US is allowed to win this one because of its power and our ‘small-island’ fear of losing grants and assistance, the US will run us over on rum. If the US is allowed to use its power to crush Antigua & Barbuda on this one, we are lost in the WTO.

PONDER THIS

“The main obstacle developing countries will face to cross-retaliation in TRIPS is political. Industries reliant on IPRs are willing to invest heavily in government lobbying and media propaganda campaigns. Although IP is a creature of industrial policy, as are tariffs and services regulation, the IP-dependent industries have historically been able to persuade governments and media outlets that any interference with IPRs is equivalent to “theft”, implying criminal intent. Raising tariffs may equally interfere with the business interests of private operators by restricting market access, but private operators have not been able to equate increased tariffs with a “theft of trading rights”.  

Words of wisdom from Frederick M. Abbott, Florida State University College of Law (April 2009)

Related articles

The Long Arm of U.S. Law: The Helms-Burton Act (Anthony M. Solis – Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review)

Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act (House of Commons Library -Research Paper 98/114  14 December 1998)

EU claims US Gambling Laws are illegal

Cross-Retaliation in TRIPS and GATS: Options for Developing Countries by Frederick M. Abbott, Florida State University College of Law (International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development)

Antigua may ditch financial services sector (Antigua Observer) http://www.antiguaobserver.com/?p=87302

DISPUTE SETTLEMENT: DISPUTE DS285  United States — Measures Affecting the Cross-Border Supply of Gambling and Betting Services  (World Trade Organisation)

US judge orders piracy test case  (BBC)

Given my post, Britain’s attempt at a la carte European menu overtones the Caribbean , I believe the perspectives in this reblogged post will be helpful to my readers. It is well-written, thought-provoking and has some interesting lessons for us within CARICOM as we struggle which similar issues.

I especially note the discussion about immigrant. It gives a view on integration and immigration which we in CARICOM should consider; secondly it helps us to look at our people’s role in Britain as immigrants. I will consider some of the views and make a post soon.

Benjamin Studebaker

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold an in-out referendum on British membership of the European Union by 2017. This is a very bad idea. Here’s why.

View original post 1,313 more words

Britain’s attempt at an à la carte European menu over tones the Caribbean

On several occasions in recent months, I’ve had to convince myself and others that regional integration is beneficial to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. In those instances, the European Union’s (EU) model of integration served well as an example of countries with differences in language, culture, levels of development and economic strengths admirably navigating the rewarding but sometimes stormy waters of regional integration.

eu_logo_szines

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Commun...

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The EU member-states have met challenges similar to those facing our regional movement – such as thorny issues related to free movement of people, capital, goods and services as well as single currency – and the 27-nation EU is still intact. So, many Caribbean experts argued that with the political will to adopt some of the measures the EU employs especially regarding ceding of a degree of national sovereignty to a supranational institution, we could make our regional integration movement, more effective.

Alas, Euro-sceptics are growing in numbers in Britain – judging from the opinion polls – in the aftermath of an economic recession that showed up defects in the currency zone. As a result, some countries including France and Germany wants to see a new federal Europe with more fiscal oversight so that the Euro can have a better chance of survival. Britain’s Prime Minister sees this as “changing the nature of the organisation” and believes his country is “perfectly entitled, and not just entitled but actually enabled … to ask for changes.”

In fact, his Conservative Party which includes a healthy bunch of sceptics, is advocating a “repatriation of powers” from Brussels (EU headquarters) to Britain. I foresee a psychological blow for CARICOM, even if it does not affect the thinking of the political directorate; it is likely to add vibrancy to the voices of voters who oppose the movement. Once this negatively affects their ‘political capital’, politicians will be dragged along.

So my ears and eyes are strained towards the Netherlands  where Cameron is expected to deliver a keynote speech on the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU, on Friday. He has already said that he will give British “voters the prospect of ‘real change’ .

We also know that he will touch on the freedoms, which he acknowledges represent a key reason to be a European Union member, particularly the movement of people. Note that he said:  “Should we look at the arguments about should it be harder for people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits… frankly we should.”

Cross reference that comment and sentiment to the remarks and goings-on within CARICOM where government officials and citizens continue to lock horns on immigration issues. Barbados has had verbal battles over who should have access to its free health care and other aspect of its social services.

Generally, that country along with Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago have been heavily criticised for their handling of CARICOM nationals especially Guyanese and Jamaicans entering their territories. In fact Barbados has been taken before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on an immigration issue.

As a Caricom national, who supports integration, the news out of Britain is disheartening. First, the EU was our model, therefore Britain’s serious consideration of a departure, even if it is not realised, does not represent a good example for a fragile CARICOM movement.

I recognise Britain has to do what is good for Britain. But against that background, I recall that only a few months ago Barbados and Jamaica’s business people separately were furiously calling for action accusing Trinidad and Tobago of using non- tariff barriers to keep out their goods, while oil-rich – by Caribbean standards- Trinidad & Tobago were heaping its comparatively cheaper goods on the shelves of its neighbours. Jamaicans were making an arguable though not winnable case regarding the benefits vis-à-vis the costs of integration and there was renewed agitation among Jamaicans that they should leave CARICOM.

In addition, decisions made at the CARICOM level have met opposition or some other stumbling blocks to their implementation in individual territories. Sometimes  ‘agreed-to’ policies and regulations are rallied back and forth with changes of governing political parties in countries.  A Caricom with a supranational body like the EU’s therefore looked attractive but this rumbling within structure is unsettling.

One positive note though is that PM Cameron wants to stay in the single market describing it as in ‘the UK’s economic interest to remain a full member of the EU to enable the country to influence the direction of the single market.’

Will Britain be able to renegotiate terms? On Friday, the world is expected to get a clearer understanding of Britain’s conditions for participating in the EU. We already know the opinion of the France’s Socialist President of  France François Hollande regarding Britain repatriation of powers. Hollande who considers that Europe is for life said: “I believe that treaties are meant to be complied with. This discussion could take place, but Europe is not a Europe in which you can take back competences. It is not Europe à la carte.”

If Britain does not get to ‘pick and mix’ from the European integration menu, how long will it wait for a referendum to tell if it will leave the EU? We’ll see. Already some commentators gives Britain the upper hand. According to her aides Chancellor Angela Merkel see the UK as taking “advantage of other European states as they struggle to save the euro and keep the most debt-laden nations, like Greece, Portugal and Spain, from dropping out of the European Union.”

For us here, the debate could point us to some of the challenges and solutions in adopting a single currency; however it could unfortunately make us very wary of that route and lead to inaction.

For now, it is one step at a time. The first is to listen to Cameron’s speech on Friday and gauge the reaction from government leaders and experts in Europe, in the region and around the world.

Related articles

Is the United States bullying Caricom countries into the ground or is the US blind-sided by the desires of large corporations?

smooth barbados rum

Wow … Nothing beats a glass of Barbados rum!

My days of toasting the New Year with a glass of smooth belly-warming Barbados rum are under threat but that is inconsequential. The real issue is that the rum industries of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are hanging on the region’s ability to get the United States to support fair trade.

Given the US’ recent behaviour to the region, I am fearful. Who wouldn’t be when a big bully is carrying the whip? I shudder.

The United States gives its territories, the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico, a tax rebate which according to a 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service provided Puerto Rico with US$371 million and USVI with almost US$100 million in 2008. The worrisome issue for the Caribbean is that this money helps finance companies in the USVI and Puerto Rico that produce and promote rum for the US market and compete with Caricom rum producers globally.

muff rum

In other words, they get a subsidy. We are talking about big brands like Bacardi Limited in Puerto Rico and the USVI’s Cruzan Rum, which is owned by United States spirits owners such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.

The subsidy has the potential of luring other rum producers to those territories, following the example of London-based Diageo PLC. That company is expected to start full production of the Captain Morgan brand on St. Croix this year “in exchange for a chunk of the excise-tax revenue estimated at US$2.7 billion” under a 30 year deal.

In fact, Diageo is getting “a new plant built at taxpayer expense, exemption from all property and gross receipt taxes for the length of the deal, a 90 per cent reduction in corporate taxes, plus marketing support and production”. The New York Times described these incentives as “so rich they are doubled the cost of actually producing the rum.”

So technically, you can say Diageo will be producing rum free of cost and with a bonus to the company. This is what Caricom producers will be competing with on the global market.

Our … distilleries need to export rum in order to survive. But bigger subsidies in the U.S. islands means we don’t get a level playing field for our exports, and it’s going to affect both small and large producers ….” That is what Anthony Bento, managing director of the 80-year-old Antigua company that makes English Harbour Rum told the Associated Press.

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Commun...From a CARICOM perspective, it is a lot of unfair money being pumped into these US territories’ rum industries; money that represents a subsidy; one actionable under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. It is not what trade liberalisation, in name or in spirit.

We have to fight this bad behaviour by the US, but we are severely hamstrung. Note that  as Caribbean governments were using diplomatic channels to effect a settlement, the United States’ fiscal-cliff bill, passed on New Year’s Day extended the offending tax break by two years.

Not surprising! Diageo spent US$2.25 million last year on lobby and has engaged the services of former Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott to push its case on Capitol Hill. These large corporations have the fire power to get themselves in the right positions.

jamaican_rum_appleton

Jamaica Rum… reigns supreme!

It looks as if the Caricom governments will have to go the WTO route. Accessing the WTO dispute mechanism costs money though some help is provided for us, small fishes. But even if we win, the United States may simply ignore us or at least make it impossible for us to get a speedy settlement. Our rum industry could die in the meantime.

My views are based on how hegemonic US dealt with Antigua after the WTO 2004 and 2005 rulings in favour of that small country in an on-line gambling case against the US.  Reading what Antigua and Barbuda’s High Commissioner to London, Carl Roberts said eight years later (December 2012) to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body offers nothing but despair. He said:

Over the years since our last WTO proceeding in this matter, our government has not been sitting idly by. Nor have we been imposing unrealistic or unbending demands upon the United States. In point of fact, Antigua and Barbuda has been working hard to achieve a negotiated solution to this case.”

“We have tabled proposal after proposal to the US government, and attended session after session, in pretty much every case involving our delegation travelling to Washington, D.C., in hopes of finding some common ground.

“But to date, the United States has not presented one compromise offer of their own, and in particular the USTR (United States Trade Representative) has made, to our belief, no sincere effort to develop and prosecute a comprehensive solution that would end our dispute.”

Therefore, from where I sit in the Caribbean, it looks as if the US wants to run us off the economic map. It is not only rum in the mix; I think about the bananas and sugar, industries the Caribbean once had. Economists call us price takers. In effect, on a world scale we produced such small quantities that we had no effect on price. It we left the market no one, but ourselves, would’ve noticed.

In the 1990s, the US responding to the cries of their companies such as Chaquita Brands International, complained to the WTO about the banana regime operated by the European Union. The WTO upheld the US case and small insignificant Caricom producers were among those adversely affected. Our countries, struggling under dis-economies of scale could not produce at a price competitive with large countries given their wide expanse of fields and large multinational corporations. The banana and sugar industries in our countries heard the death knell. Thousands were thrown out of work and into poverty.

Some Caricom governments hoped that their off-shore financial sector would shore up their ailing economies; but that attempt at diversification was squeezed by the United States and other large countries citing tax havens to implement international rules and regulations that stifle the growth of such centres.

Even marijuana farming and exportation in the Caribbean is locked off by the United States. On moral reasons, I agree with that action, but what can I think when I see states within the US legalizing the drug as their country try to stamp out its growth in the Caribbean.

Guyana%20eldorado%2015%20rum

Guyana has the oldest rum producing distillery. It can be found on the Demerara River banks. Caribbean rich with rum making experience.

Are our small countries to produce only hungry beggars for that is what will happen if the US stamp us down at every turn? That will be left for us?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF)?  The IMF to dictate our lives in exchange for a few dollars worth of loans?

I know the United States is looking out for its capitalists’ interests but why not let the Caribbean do its fishing instead of grudgingly dropping us a fish? If we are price takers, can we at least be left with something to take that price? Is the position from which big countries operates one of unadulterated greed? I once believe not but today I am unsure!

Level the playing field in the rum industry and give our industry a chance!

Rum is Caricom’s biggest agro export. According to data from the US International Trade Commission (USITC), the Caribbean bloc’s share as a supplier of rum to the US market has fallen in recent years. In 2000, it accounted for around 70 per cent of the total, 50 per cent in 2008, and 42.3 per cent in 2011, equivalent to US$38.7 million.   Barbados and Jamaica are responsible for most of the deliveries (two thirds), followed by Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. In 2011, PR recorded US sales of US$148 billion, four times more than Caricom.

 

Needy and Anxious

Help! Information is needed. Action may be needed!

I shuddered as I read that Haiti is issuing permits for companies to mine gold and copper in their lands. I agree that Haitians need jobs, unemployment is 52 percent; their economy needs stimuli,  but my stomach fell to my toes as the relevant news item darted up at me from my computer screen.

Blame my desire to see Haiti achieve the best or blame the news media, research tools and my inquiring mind which have led me to conclude that in too many mines worldwide, even those of developed countries, security features and general working conditions have been the source of much concern.

Haiti is Third World, plagued with political instability. I use the categorisation, Third World, which I detest on purpose, because it carries all the negative connotations which added to this mining business flicked on my alarm switch.

Poor education and health standards along with the resulting high level of ignorance about critical matters in the mining business among a very hungry poor population offer no comfort to me as I watch from the outside.

My lessons from Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, springs painfully to mind as I try to analyse the unfolding events. I know nothing about the investors nor the decision makers at the mining companies and I am not saying that they are bad human beings but I fear. I need to know.

Manise Joseph, 16, looks for gold. People in the village of Lakwev in north-east Haiti have been digging for gold since the 1960s. Photograph: Ben Depp

Manise Joseph, 16, looks for gold. People in the village of Lakwev in north-east Haiti have been digging for gold since the 1960s. Photograph: Ben Depp

Who will be watching out for Haitians employed in the mines?  Who will monitor safety, health and pay conditions; are these people competent and enabled?  Wages are already low with 75 per cent of Haitians earning less than US$2 per day, will the pay fit the tasks?

Who will prevent the exploitation of the country’s resources, including its people? Who will walk away with the lion share of the profits? These are important questions!

The answers are critical considering the enormous issues about the marginal level of the Rule of Law in Haiti which was raised in a United Nation 2010 report .  This Rule of Law, as the report noted not only relates to “the police, corrections and the judiciary.”  (Read carefully and grasp the  direness.)

It (the Rule of law)  is also about land registry, civil registry, building codes and commercial laws; it is about the State’s capacity to collect taxes and to guarantee a certain level of judicial security that can promote investments and job creation, to, ultimately, encourage economic development.

According to the Guardian online newspaper, the companies applying for mining permits were working with little government oversight. We all know that companies are about profits not regulations.  This is a sorry situation ripe for exploitation of man, country, animal and anyone or anything else standing in the way of high profits.

Commenting on this worrisome poor state of monitoring, geologist Dieuseul Anglade, the former director of Haiti’s mining agency, was quoted as saying: “The government doesn’t give us the means to supervise the companies. Most of our budget goes to salaries. We don’t really have an operating budget.”

I added this to Eurasian Minerals president David Cole‘s boast that his company “controls over 1,100 square miles of real estate” and investor Mickey Fulp‘s note that “It is obvious there is substantial geopolitical risk in Haiti, but the geology is just so damn good”; and the result was that my alarm bells reached deafening decibels.  Protection of the environment; ensuring appropriate labour, safety and health standards; and preventing the exploitation of man, animal, and country must be ensured.

Join me in this quest for answers and let us find methods to agitate for the best conditions for Haitians.

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Pray, talk and the hunger strike

Location map of the Borough of Point Fortin, T...

Location map of the Borough of Point Fortin, Trinidad and Tobago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a Caribbean sister, I like to understand my fellow Caribbean nationals. Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh’s hunger strike helped me to realise that at least one type of Caribbean person is easy to understand, if only for their innate ability to be non-understandable (no I don’t want to say they are misunderstood). It is a shared trait among politicians in the region.

Check out this statement from Communication Minister Jamal Mohammed (I know my underline and bold functions are on. I did it on purpose).

“Before the Cabinet notes were brought, the entire Cabinet stood and, as is customary, we said a prayer and in our prayers we prayed for the health of Dr Kublalsingh, for him to take sustaining liquids and that he would be A-OK and we also commended his stick-to-itiveness and his will. But the entire Cabinet would love for Dr Kublalsingh to eat so that he can continue fighting, not only for this issue but many other issues as he moves forwards. So we all prayed for him.”

Yes, he is the Communication Minister and I am not crying down Trinis, a Barbadian Communication Minister is also wont to speak in such tongues, it is known to happen during prayers, but I find the statement difficult to digest and to reconcile with other events.

Yes Avram (she’s my alter ego), I know Mr. Mohammed wasn’t speaking to me but to the Trinidad’s population who understand the nuance of Trini-speak but if all that goodwill sentiment is there, what is the action?

Does it mean they so like his stick-to-itiveness and his will, that they want to see how much it can be stretched. I doubt. As an outsider, I am learning that part of the divide between environmentalist Dr Kublalsingh and the government is an independent technical review on the contentious Mon Desir section of the Point Fortin Highway.

Environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh on hunger strike

Environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh on hunger strike. Picture taken from http://news.power102fm.com/

Four civil society organisations, the Joint Consultative Council (JCC), the T&T Transparency Institute, the Women Working for Social Progress and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions have presented the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s government with a proposal which they believe will bring a positive solution to the impasse. It centres on the independent review.

“If an independent review exists, and that is in question, then it can be immediately published. If it does not exist we are calling for one to be created and we have outlined a process for the creation of an independent review of the matters in dispute within three months,” president of JCC Afra Raymond is quoted in the Trinidad Guardian as saying.

I, see it within the context of sustainable development which is a global goal. That is development:

that meets the needs of the present (generation) without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investment, the orientation of technical development and the institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs.”

Paraphrase: it is not only about today but includes tomorrow; about the relationship between natural world and the man-made world. Perhaps the report will shed light on many of these issues and lead to compromise between the disputing factions and a better Trinidad for today and tomorrow.

But Avram’s idea is that the Trinidad &Tobago’s voters put the party in power to govern, and it is governing; secondly, not every document should be in common hands or is for public consumption. I pooh-pa that comment though I understand the argument about selectivity because I can’t see the common hands to which she refers nor do I believe such information will constitute a state secret.

This participatory ethos, baffles Avram but not the United Nations do, so I rest my case on that one.

But she says if I think government should make the document available then I am getting into Trinidad’s politics, and I should get out,” Avram said.

But I am speaking as a Caribbean person, a humanitarian, concerned about the environment and as Bajans would say “more to besides” my grandmother is a Marshall with relatives in Dow Village, South Oropouche, though they are out of contact.

HIGHWAY PROTEST: Members of the Highway Re-Route Movement, sit next to an excavator that was used to clear land at Monteil Trace, Fyzabad, in preparation for the Fyzabad Interchange last week.—Photo: DAVE PERSADTrinidad Express

HIGHWAY PROTEST: Members of the Highway Re-Route Movement, sit next to an excavator that was used to clear land at Monteil Trace, Fyzabad, in preparation for the Fyzabad Interchange last week.—Photo: DAVE PERSAD
Trinidad Express

Ha, she laughs, three points negate your statement. One, Minister of Works and Infrastructure Emmanuel George said the highway will not be passing through the Oropouche Lagoon, as stated by the Re-Route Movement; two, you don’t know Trinidad’s geography enough to gauge the location of Dow Village in relation to the lagoon, even if you believe the civic groups; nor can you say anything about the point related to flooding, there.

I said I am trying to understand what is meant by Cabinet praying; wishing the end of Dr. Kublalsingh’s hunger strike so he can continue fighting issues; and commending his stick-to-itiveness and his will.

Does it mean action will follow pray? Perhaps.

Mr Mohammed said  they will “make an effort on behalf of the Government to provide copies (of the documents) to the media,” but that the documents were public papers and available through the courts.

If the media, why not the groups, why do to court for them,” I asked.

Participatory, I tell you so, Avram said, she wasn’t listening to my last statement. I smirked.

Are we independent?

“You could take off that yellow and blue and stop celebrating Independence, a dot like Barbados could be independent? Even large countries ain’t independent.” It is Avram’s voice. She was provoking me but I was too busy relaxing peacefully; too lost into my thoughts about frivolous subjects to take her on.

She burst out singing; “No man is an island” in her off-key sometimes bass cum soprano cum tenor voice. I couldn’t take it no more so I shouted out: “First, Barbados’ colours are gold, ultramarine plus black for the Broken Trident; you start wrong so you must end wrong.”

My alter ego is extremely persistent. She is also a strategist who carefully picks battles to lose or to win. Her goal is winning the war and I am always trying to defeat her.

“You are right, I started wrong and I’ve ended wrong. On reflection, wearing national colours is about patriotism, not independence” she said, “but I remembered all you said a few days ago about globalism and regional integration and I was trying to reconcile them with this independence thing.”

“Cooperation, cooperation not dependence,” I was saying but she was talking through my chant, not listening.

“Yes, yes, Barbados has a right to choose, so it is independent, like China and the United States” she taunted.

What I told you! Avram is a strategist; all she wanted was to set me thinking deeply. She succeeded. She won. My mind is in havoc.

First, I tried to understand independence. I saw a young person leaving his parental home with his mum and dad’s blessings and their expectation that he will support himself financially – pay his loans and living expenses- not run back home often begging and crying for help.

I draw an analogy with Barbados and its former mother country, England, part of the European Union and then I checked out Sir Ronald Saunders’ articles. He is a former diplomatic and would have reliable and sound information. But his comments left me gloomy.

It is not overstating the case to say that EU (European Union) assistance to the Caribbean for its productive sector and infrastructure is an essential component of government revenues, allowing them to spend on social welfare programmes,” he wrote. “If EU assistance is reduced, Caribbean countries can expect to see an expansion of poverty and a reduction of social welfare programmes, with an attendant increase in unemployment and violent crime.”

O Lord, we independent Caribbean countries begging our former mother countries, I cried.

But Barbados is solid I cried. The World Bank isn’t giving us concessionary loans and in fact it mentioned Barbados as one of those “countries (that) graduated from the aid recipient list (because it had) reach high income status and remain there for a few years.”

So Barbados standing on its own feet; I felt proud to be a member of an independent nation until I reached for the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

“Caribbean will mount a diplomatic demarche to forestall the reduction in foreign aid through further graduation. If this is successful it is likely to be only a temporary reprieve. For the time being, there is Chinese aid and PetroCaribe but the middle-income countries of the Caribbean must reconcile themselves to being forcefully weaned off aid and on to the international and local financial markets.”

I gleaned from the article that Barbados is among those countries that has to be forcefully weaned off so how independent is it?

Avram came in the room again grinning and carrying several pamphlets. “Look I’ve found a description of Barbados it is a popular one in journals.Barbados

“Barbados, she read “has a small open economy. ‘Small’ refers to the country’s inability to influence the price it pays or charges when doing trade with the rest of the world.’ Wait, Barbados doesn’t have a say, it relies on others to set prices for its products,” she added.

Check here, she said. “Government remains very concerned over the extremely high dependence on imports to meet domestic food requirements, which has placed Barbados in the category of Net Food Importing Developing Countries (NFIDCs) with approximately 74 percent of food requirements being sourced through imports” she read.

Stop! Stop! I cried covering my ears with my hands but she went on telling me about the World Trade Organisation where we had a say but too few experts to analyse effectively, to lobby, to negotiate and we being led by the powerful countries. “Weak words, weak vote,” she stressed.

She said we didn’t stand a chance in this globalised world where multilateral rules were set by international organisations turning us into robots and shoving things down our throats that we can’t swallow but try to because we wanted favours.

She said rules about poverty, privatisation, land zoning, children per school ratio and so on were set by multilateral organisations that don’t have a clue about our cultural nuances and the effect of these things on our lives. She said they fool Barbados that it has a vote but power and influence are asymmetric and we were on the lighter side of the scale, so our vote is a blank.

“You don’t see that we can’t take flying fish to England for Maggie; they say Barbados carry on back yard slaughtering but we didn’t start swine flu nor bird flu, yet they punishing us and speaking about phyto-sanitary standards. You think if we were independent, we would let them bully us, we would put a non-tariff barrier in their way too.”

She went on to talk about the International Monetary Fund visiting Barbados ‘two mornings’ and tell us how to run our economy, making us raise our Value Added Tax to 17.5 per cent. I shot back that the IMF told big England about their fiscal deficit so why not Little England, the nickname given to Barbados. But Avram was winning and she wasn’t quitting.

rainbow 002

A rainbow of hope for Barbados’ future

So I screamed that at least we aren’t like Turk & Caicos Islands where Britain sent an officer to run their affairs nor we weren’t like Montserrat where England could sanction public officers. I know that was a powerful blow, so I ran into my room before Avram could recover but peep out to shout out to all Barbadians,“let’s plant food and produce more goods; stop buying so many imports that run down our scare foreign affairs; buy local.”  

I then hollered to the top of my voice. “Happy Independence Barbados” and I slammed the door in the face of Avram and all other naysayers to Barbados’ economic and social health.

Immigration squeezing unity

300px-West_indies_cricket_board_flagA few Sundays ago, I declared the coming week, West Indies Week,” and went viral soliciting all Caribbean people to join in a frenzy of celebrations. Who in the cricketing Caribbean region could avoid celebrating after the underdogs, the West Indies cricket team thrashed Sri Lanka at home?

I shouted to my Caribbean people home and abroad: “Eat oil down; ackee and salt fish; cou-cou and flying fish; crab and callalloo; salt fish and green fig; cook-up; curry and roti; pepperpot; mountain chicken; lobster Dominic; and so on.

“Don’t touch Yorkshire pudding or hamburger, this week. Wear all the West Indies cricket shirts you have… if you don’t have, buy. And, please raise Caribbean flags, high.” Instructions were flying. My internet connection crawled under the hefty load of to and fro-ing e-mails.

Suddenly so, ‘bam’ my West Indies flag broke at half-mast. Mourning started. Caribbean unity was awaiting a decision on a leg before wicket appeal made by Jamaicans.

That Sunday the  Jamaica Observer newspaper carried an article in which a Jamaican woman said she was mistreated by  officials at the Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados. This was not the first time such a claim was made so some Jamaicans were furious with Barbadians, calling them “Barbarians” as they vented anger off and on-line. One gentleman urged his government to issue a travel advisory warning Jamaicans against travelling to Barbados, which was nicknamed ‘the dot’.

Incensed Jamaicans saw the matter as another example that 190px-JAMAICA_CC_PASSPORTthe Caribbean Community (Caricom) was not beneficial to their country and Julian Archer cried: “Give us back our Jamaican passport. No Caribbean Community Passport around here.”

I deplore abuse. I hate discrimination, no matter whether it is based on gender, ideology, race, nationality, class or creed. I wasn’t at the airport so I cannot give evidence about the facts of the lady’s allegation. However, the claim reminded me that immigration issues within the Caribbean Community need a serious examination. Weshould also  educate our Caricom nationals adequately about the provisions of the Single market including free movement of people.

Times of plenty are more favourable to integration than hard times. Economic conditions  in the Caribbean are now difficult. The recession continues to bite into our heavily indebted economies; and the conditionalites imposed by lending agencies like the International Monetary Fund have brought turbulence to the economic and social conditions of our people. Circumstances are therefore pushing them to search for opportunities outside their home territories.

Traditionally favoured destinations have, however, tightened their entry rules. For example, the United States has raised visa application fees and demanded that these applications be made electronically perhaps believing that ‘economic refugees’ are likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide. Even friendly countries, like Britain, the former mother country of many CARICOM nations are becoming less welcoming to us.

Last month, we read that St. Lucians and Vincentians were now required to have visas to enter Canada. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is concerned about human trafficking; fraudulent travel documents and the excessively high number of asylum seekers from those Caricom countries. So the world is getting jumpy about how people enter their borders and Caricom nationals are now forced to look inward with added vigour.

Human trafficking and use of false documents are not problems exclusive to large countries. Barbados was cited by the United States Department of State among countries not doing enough to protect victims of this evil. Checking the flow of illegal drugs through the island’s sea and airport is also a battle. This combination can make some of the officers who monitor the island’s sea and air port more officious than normal.

None of these factors, however, can justify abuse. My view is: if in doubt about a visitor’s reason for entry, turn him back but don’t mistreat him.

Flag_of_CARICOM_svgSome Caricom nationals however will ask; “why deny me entry, I have a Caricom-labelled passport, I should have access to any part of this region? They believe the region is their home and nobody has the right to shut a door against them at any of its ports. That speaks to the Caricom under construction; the current Caricom is one whose borders are opening incrementally.

We must also remember that community members are all sovereign states with rights to protect their borders. Even the Europe Union, with its elements of federation and supranational institutions, have immigration issues. In April, Brussels threatened the United Kingdom with court action for failing to implement certain EU directives on immigration. All is not perfect there.

Look at the United States, their nationals have had border concerns. I recall Miss America 2003, Susie Castillo, crying after she was body-searched at Dallas airport during an inter-state trip.

The region is  not alone on these issues but we need to find rational solutions for our challenges. It is crunch time when nationals of a Caricom country suggest that its government should put its defence force on standby in case another Caricom country doesn’t take action on an immigration matter.

WEB-bimpassport_w216It is also serious when Barbadians fear travelling to Jamaica and Jamaicans conjure up images of being man handled at our ports of entry. I have faith though the Myrie case now before the Caribbean Court of Justice will produce an approach that will affect how the region handles border matters and this will even out some of these bumps along the road to integration.

In the meantime, let’s continue to dance and sing ‘Rally around the West Indies’ and  let us share our oil-down, jerk chicken and cou-cou and flying fish with each other.

VAT: Handle me with care!

Hellraiser Tackle & Electronics shop window

Hellraiser Tackle & Electronics shop window (Photo credit: absurdwhistle)

 It would be sophomoric to paint employee promotions with a negative brush because a promoted employee spent all his earnings on liquor to the detriment of his family. I haven’t properly analysed the quality of the Barbados government spending, but if financial mismanagement can be proven, that is not due to VAT but due to misguided policy makers and reflects a system that has inadequate checks and balances; a system that allows inefficiencies to thrive.
The moral of the story therefore to citizens of Turks and Caicos is that VAT, like any other government funds, requires prudent handlers.”

Get the full article by clicking the link below.

MORAL OF THE STORY FOR TCI: VAT DOLLARS NEED PRUDENT HANDLERS.