(continued from March 31)
Two weeks ago, this column raised the issue of the implications for the Caribbean of the decision of the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (EU), a process which has a tight two-year time schedule. It is a matter which, as was pointed out, concerns not just those two parties, but others such as us in the Caribbean, with whom the EU has concrete agreements, and which have a long history of trading relations with the UK.
The UKâs withdrawal from the European Union will not end the legally-binding Agreement that Caribbean countries (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) have with the EU. That Agreement, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), signed in 2008, covers trade and development cooperation matters and will continue. What the UKâs withdrawal will do is to automatically shrink the size of the EU market available to us on favourable terms, whilst leaving us with no legal instrument covering such relations with the UK. Given the two-year threshold, it is therefore imperative that the Caribbean seeks to arrive at some mutually acceptable arrangement with the UK to maintain the terms of market access we enjoyed on the UK market as part of the EPA.
Thus far, there is no indication that the UK will not be disposed to an arrangement which places the Caribbeanâs trade relations on the same type of footing as that which currently exists under the EPA. It has good reason to do so, outside of the sentimental âhistorical ties,â which some like to hold on to, but which do not hold much water in todayâs global capitalist relations. The UK has a positive trade balance with CARICOM nations in particular, especially in light of our reducing exports to that country. What would be the bigger problem is to find an agreement which satisfies the rules of the World Trade Organization, yes, the WTO again.
There is also the matter for us of market presence as against market access. To give a simple example, under the EPA, we have access to the European market, to all 28 countries. But in reality, we have only been able to establish a meaningful market presence in the UK. It is in UK supermarkets, almost exclusively, that we have staked that presence for our bananas and in regard to services, for instance, the UK has proven to be more advantageous for us where scope for service providers and independent professionals are concerned. We have our work cut out to create similar spaces and turn the EU market access into market presence.
These are the sort of issues around which we should be engaged in serious public discourse. Time is not on our side and we have much to lose. Naturally our governments, under the lead of proactive Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ought to be leading the way, but we, as citizens, cannot simply stay back and moan if our interests are not protected and advanced. In particular, we have a growing number of young people, blazing the way in the service and cultural industries. Their views on such matters, their active involvement and participation are crucial to securing positive outcomes on such issues that affect us all. Our media, traditional and social media, need to devote time and space in ventilating the issues, educating the public, and spending less time on trivial issues.
We are into new situations calling for new, enlightened and innovative approaches. Letâs rise to the challenges.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.