Old England vs the world: UWI looks at Caribbean implications of Brexit

“Every aspect of Caribbean life will be adversely affected by this development; from trade relations to immigration, tourism to financial relations, and cultural engagements to foreign policy. There will be a significant redefinition and reshaping of Caricom-UK engagements.

“The region’s fragile economic recovery is threatened.”

Photo: Britain has voted to leave the EU. (Copyright Corbett Report)
Photo: Britain has voted to leave the EU.
(Copyright Corbett Report)

The University of the West Indies will host a symposium on Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU) at its Mona campus in Jamaica as an in-depth academic reflection on the relevant themes, with a view to facilitating regional action ahead of the Caricom Conference of Heads of Government.

The following is a statement by UWI vice-chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles:

Reaching the limits of emotional despair over how to manage its post-imperial, ethnic nationalism and challenged to participate in the global world as an equal partner, the English have retreated to their traditional identity base at the expense of every other consideration.

It has taken this strategic step in order to go forward as old England versus the world. This is a desperate attempt to reinvent a still idealised past in which ‘Englishness’ is celebrated as a distinct standard not to be entangled or diminished by deep association.

The predictable, highly individualistic action poses both a short-term as well as a long-term threat to the performance of Caricom economies, and should trigger immediate strategic regional reactions even before Heads meet in Guyana next week.

Photo: Britain has decided to leave the EU and go it alone. (Copyright BT.com)
Photo: Britain has decided to leave the EU and go it alone.
(Copyright BT.com)

Every aspect of Caribbean life will be adversely affected by this development; from trade relations to immigration, tourism to financial relations, and cultural engagements to foreign policy. There will be a significant redefinition and reshaping of Caricom-UK engagements.

The region’s fragile economic recovery is threatened.

Caricom should use this development in order to deepen and strengthen its internal operations and external relations to the wider world. It’s a moment for Caricom to come closer together rather than drift apart. The region should not be seen as mirroring this mentality of cultural and political insularity, but should reaffirm the importance of regionalism within the global context for the future.

Those driving the “leave” agenda knew very well the likelihood of broad based negative global effects of their option but chose to jettison external obligations, a critical feature of hyper-conservative, extreme nationalism.

Next week The UWI will host a symposium in Mona, Jamaica as an in-depth academic reflection on the relevant themes, with a view to facilitating regional action ahead of the Caricom Conference of Heads of Government.

Photo: University of the West Indies' St Augustine campus.
Photo: University of the West Indies’ St Augustine campus.

This UK development should not be taken lightly; it should be fully researched as it constitutes an obvious structural threat to the sustainability of economic institutions in the region.

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  1. BREXIT creates EU-Britain nightmare for the Caribbean
    By Sir Ronald Sanders
    (The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US; he has served as Ambassador to the EU and the WTO and High Commissioner to the UK)
    The 12 English-speaking independent countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have at the most two years to formulate a plan for dealing with the serious consequences of the British Exit (BREXIT) from the European Union (EU).
    Indeed, the time may be less if the current mood of the leadership of the EU intensifies. They want Britain gone “as soon as possible”. The presidents of the European council, commission and parliament – Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz respectively – and Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, are reported as saying any delay to Britain’s exit would “unnecessarily prolong uncertainty”.
    Once Britain finally leaves, the 12 Caribbean countries will have no structured trade relationship with that country. When Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973, it transferred all authority for its trade agreements to the Community. Ever since then, the formal trade, aid and investment relations between the 12 Caribbean countries has been with EU. These relations were formalised successively in the Lome Convention, the Cotonou Agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement.
    Key to the terms under which the English-speaking Caribbean countries entered – and continued – the relationship with the EU, was Britain, their former colonial ruler.
    Up to the time of British entry to the EU, trade between Britain and the 12 Caribbean countries was conducted under a Commonwealth preferences scheme. That scheme fell away once Britain joined the EU and negotiated the extension of some of those preferences to the English-speaking Caribbean by the European body.
    In effect, once Britain officially exits the EU, Caribbean countries will have no trade agreement with it. Indeed, Britain will have no formal trade agreements with any country, having subsumed its authority for trade matters to the EU. Its first task will be to negotiate trade terms with the remaining 27 EU members, hitherto its biggest trading partner. Those negotiations will not be easy. Britain will then have to try to formalise trade agreements with other countries. The United States will be uppermost in its priorities, but President Obama had warned during the debate on BREXIT, that the UK market of 64 million people would not be high on the US agenda. The EU, with a population of 450 million (without Britain) was a far greater target.
    In any event, a trade agreement with the 12 small English-speaking Caribbean countries (total market of approximately 7 million) will also not be high on Britain’s list.
    However, even though these Caribbean countries have been notionally trading with the EU, the majority of their exports has been going to the British market. Now that the EU will no longer be representing Britain, the EPA will not cover trade with Britain. That is an issue, however much on the back burner it will be for Britain, that will be important to the Caribbean – at least for trade in services, particularly tourism. British tourists comprise a significant number of the annual visitors to the region.
    More worryingly, once Britain leaves the EU, there will be several troubling consequences for the 12 Caribbean countries. Not only will the British market disappear from the EU, but so too will the British contribution to official aid and investment. It is most unlikely that the 27 EU countries, which had no historical relationship with, or colonial responsibility for, the English-speaking Caribbean, will want to maintain the level of official aid and investment that now exists.
    Importantly, it should be recognised that the EU-EPA is the only such formal comprehensive arrangement that Caribbean countries have with any other country or region of the world. It is vital to maintain as much of it as possible.
    There had been some speculation in Britain during the BREXIT debate that Britain could resuscitate trade among the 52 other Commonwealth countries. But, that idea, rooted in Empire, is not only impractical, it would not reap for Britain the trade rewards it derives from the EU. Britain’s earnings from exports to the Commonwealth, is not huge, representing only 9.76 per cent of its total exports in 2014, while its merchandise exports to the EU represented a hefty 45 per cent of its total exports.
    In any event, total Commonwealth trade in goods has declined over the years. And, even its share of world trade is owed to the trading capacity of only six of the Commonwealth states – Singapore, India, Malaysia, Australia, Britain and Canada. Moreover, that trade is not between themselves. For instance, China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, and the US and Mexico are Canada’s. In 2014, the six countries accounted for 84 per cent of all Commonwealth exports; 47 countries combined, including South Africa and Nigeria made up only 16 per cent. Not surprisingly, the 36 Commonwealth small states, including the 12 in the Caribbean, enjoy only a tiny share of Commonwealth exports.
    As for the notion that Commonwealth countries could fashion a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement (FTA) under which they could give preferences to each other to expand intra-Commonwealth trade, while this is technically possible to make it compliant with WTO rules, it is enormously difficult from a legal, administrative and even political standpoint. Certainly, Cyprus and Malta would have to leave the EU customs union.
    Other Commonwealth countries would also have to review their commitments to other countries with which they have joined in FTAs to ensure that the effect of Commonwealth preferences does not violate their existing agreements, which, in many cases, it must do to make the Commonwealth FTA beneficial to many of its participants.
    Finally, the benefits of improved preferential access to all Commonwealth States within an FTA would be exploited by the major economies such as India, Malaysia and then by the developed Commonwealth countries, Britain, Australia and Canada. The Commonwealth’s 36 small states would not get much of a look-in.
    Other options have to be explored by the Caribbean countries for dealing with the twin-problem of no formal trade relationship with Britain, and an existing EPA with the EU that is now skewered and ripe with problems.
    The Caribbean has known for over a year that the referendum on BREXIT was coming. The result could only have been one of two things – either Britain would stay within the EU in which case it would be business as usual, or Britain would leave. In the latter case, the scenario described above would be the reality with which the Caribbean would be faced. Plans for dealing with it should, therefore, have already been thought through.
    If not, the Caribbean has at most two years, and the clock is ticking.’
    Caribbean Times.

  2. I think we have to put our own house in order and market ourselves better rather than depending on anyone else to carry us. Most of our exports to the EU were to the UK, now they have their own issues to deal with

  3. Savitri Maharaj and Gregory H. Subero
    “Caribbean countries should not expect special deals or preferences from the European Union (EU) if Britain is not there to argue on their behalf, says Prof W Andy Knight.

    According to Knight, professor of International Relations at the University of Alberta, Canada, and former director of the Institute of International Relations, UWI, St Augustine, now that the majority of British voters have decided that their country should “leave” the EU, it is likely to impact negatively on the Economic Partnership Agreement between Cariforum (Caricom plus the Dominican Republic) and the EU…”

  4. Mel Lissa “Browne said trends show that investors prefer order and certainty, so there is the possibility of weaker economic growth in the EU and the UK which is “not a positive development for world growth.”

    He said T&T has to be concerned about the impact of Brexit on the price of oil and gas. He said any hint of a recession in the UK “will lead to a decline in market prices and therefore our foreign exchange earnings and a worsening in our current account position.””

  5. lol@all this kneejerk fear mongering. Barely 2days since the result, y’know?

  6. UWI should look at their own nation’s crap first

  7. The Caribbean better be on guard because England will not be spending as much as before .

  8. Why is UWI so damn reactive and not proactive ??? Why didn’t they discuss the pros and cons before ?? They always shoot in the direction they see smoke…..SMH

    • I agree. I’ve been following this issue (somewhat) for some months, and because I was in the UK for a year I was able to poll my friends and family up there and get their opinions on the topic. My Facebook feed also had some interesting articles. None of my Trini friends ever posted an opinion of the vote; no local news sources that I can name offhand have any insight. Two days after the vote and all of a sudden everyone is sharing misleading memes and giving an opinion about it, acting like it’s the end of the world suddenly. This vote was not a secret. Why discuss the implications for us AFTER the fact? If it’s going to affect us, even if we don’t have a vote, we do have the ability to take in front if possible. This is just failure.

    • La Toya Hart Because nobody seriously thought that the Leave vote was going to win the referendum

    • Manyi Eta-Okang, I was really shocked in truth! Honestly, I was really divided about which way I’d have voted if I had the right…..I understood and agreed with a lot of what Brexit advocates presented (and I think the media was and is misrepresenting that stance a lot), but at the same time there was a comfort in keeping things the way they were and remaining. But I really never delved too deeply into the issue and really picked it apart because I just assumed that they’d vote to remain and this will blow over. I was wrong. But I’m not an academic or a policy-maker who has a responsibility to the population when it comes to global issues like this.

    • La Toya Hart why would you have agreed with the vote to leave the EU? Immigration?

    • No. Most of the arguments I read that I agreed with didn’t even have immigration as a top issue. I’m not sure I’d say I agreed with the vote to leave, but I don’t disparage it completely like some are doing. I tried to look objectively at both sides, and I just found the argument to leave to be more compelling than the argument to stay- maybe because most of what I read in the remain camp relied on fear-mongering rather than presenting plain facts and figures. As I said, I never really delved deeply into the issue, so I’m speaking out of ignorance, to an extent. I cannot debate one side or the other, all I have is my impression of the issue based on my limited observation and research.

      If I had a say, I believe I’d have voted to remain. I think. The whole “devil you know” argument and all. I definitely would have done my due diligence and researched it much better, though……

  9. I wish this concern was shared when the caribbean was bullied into signing a disadvantageous EPA

  10. The U.K. was the 5th largest economy and the 3rd largest EU contributor
    The world and the EU cannot do without the UK

    The Caribbean knew of the date of the referendum for two years and did nothing to plan for the so called fallout

    But the fallout will be negligible

    • That is wishful thinking and will soon be proven wrong…. the EU was doing fine before the UK joined will will too after thhey will have left… mind you the pound is under more pressure than the Euro…. and who said the pound is one of the worlds priced currencies?

  11. Britain is/was the English speaking caribbean’s advocate within the EU.
    The extent to which we’re affected will depend on how strong a message the EU wants to send to other members about the “dangers” of leaving.

  12. You got it wrong. It was the older generation who wanted a return of their lost boundaries of superiority who voted out. The younger generation were prepared to expand their horizons and extend their boundaries without concern for race and colour. They know that their opportunities are going to getter fewer and skin colour will take on new significance. The older ones do not understand that the ‘old order changeth, giving place to new’. With the brexit vote cast in their favour they are hoping that the old order will be returned to them. The real rude awakening will come. One day, one day congotay.

  13. The question is, can the UK survive without EU?
    There is not much to suggest that they can’t. I am no economist but as far I understand the UK pays roughly 18 billion£ to the EU, with an instant rebate of about 5billion £. That’s money in the bank. I’m sure would seek to protect their interest through negotiations, over the next couple of years.
    I don’t see the UK crashing and burning just yet. The uncertainty in the market won’t last forever.

  14. The mere fact that on of the world most prized currencies just lost significant value in a day over an act that may take two years to realise should give us pause. Please remember too that several of our Caricom brethren still have official ties to the UK with the Queen as their head of state …

  15. What has changed exactly? The UK has left the EU. Well not as yet. This will not happen overnight. It will take years before the UK exits. Negotiations will have to take place. Then when it is finally done. We go on as normal trading with the New EU and the UK. Getting aid from both.

  16. There will be no adverse effect because the UK always had one foot outside of the EU

    This is not Texas nor Quebec leaving USA or Canada

    There is no new entity arising

    The majority of the EU UK agreements will continue to stand between the both parties with the exception of the 300k per year immigrants the creation of the super army the right of prisoners to vote and the future bailouts of the PIGS and France

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