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ON THE RIGHT: A wait and see for Caribbean


Andrea Ewart

ON THE RIGHT: A wait and see for Caribbean

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Should the Caribbean be worried about receiving reduced support from the United States?

 

United States foreign and trade policy could look very different in 2017. Whether this is the case depends, of course, on who won the presidential elections. At the same time, there is little reason to expect that any change would have a major impact on the status of US-Caribbean relations.

Hillary Clinton as president may have continued the general course of President Barack Obama’s foreign and trade policy.

With respect to the Caribbean, this policy has created some increased engagement with the region, notably in Obama’s second term.

Energy has received particular focus. After increasing levels of engagement in this area, Obama initiated the Task Force For Caribbean And Central American Energy Security in 2015. Its goal is to diminish the vulnerability of small energy markets in the region to fluctuations in global energy markets.

Clinton was very focused on women and gender issues so this is one possible area of increased attention under her presidency.

The unknowns lie with a Donald Trump presidency.

Will the US return to the “benign” neglect of the Caribbean, and indeed of any country or region that does not pose an immediate security or economic threat to it?

The policy that Trump, the candidate, promoted is best described as isolationist. In his trade platform to “make America great again”, Trump promised to: retrench on trade negotiations by renegotiating the 20-plus-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement between US, Canada, and Mexico; and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and strengthen trade enforcement against countries that his administration would label as “cheats” – this would include unilaterally raising tariffs and duties on the goods from some countries.

Some of these commitments, if implemented, would trigger a trade war. Economists have said this eventuality would push the US and the world back into economic recession. Even if this worst-case scenario did not occur, the region is unlikely to see heightened engagement under a Trump presidency.

A very good basis has been laid, nevertheless, that could allow the current status of US-Caribbean foreign and trade relations to continue under either candidate.

There may not be a US-Caribbean Energy Summit under a President Trump. However, the important work takes place after and in-between such high-level events.

Progress comes from the work of professional foreign policy officials and engaged civil society.

The key deciding factor for the future of US-Caribbean relations continues to be the extent to which the region responds while proactively and consistently engaging the US with its own agenda.

US-Cuba foreign and trade relations are considered separately by US policymakers. The topic is also of particular interest to the rest of the Caribbean.

Clinton and Trump took opposing positions on the US opening of Cuba. Clinton supported the current opening and lifting of the US embargo.

Trump perhaps appreciated the business opportunities, but has said he would be prepared to return the restrictions if Cuba does not give more religious and political freedoms to its citizens.

 

Andrea Ewart is a Jamaican national and US-trained customs and international trade attorney with her own firm, DevelopTradeLaw, LLC. She is based in the US. These views were shared prior to last week’s US election.

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