How not to argue the case against our middle-income status

Sunday, February 26, 2012    

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Mr A J Nicholson has declared that his goal as foreign minister is to restore Jamaica's international image and reputation. That is a noble objective, given the disastrous damage done to Jamaica by the previous Government's mishandling of the Christopher 'Dudus' Coke extradition.

However, the minister erred in his recent speech to the annual gathering of the diplomatic corps when he called for a review of Jamaica's status as a middle-income country.

We believe he missed a great opportunity to outline the broad goals and tenets of the new administration, emphasising Jamaica's determination to help itself and to move to a higher level of economic development despite the current global economic crisis.

However, Mr Nicholson, unintentionally we believe, positioned Jamaica as a mendicant. The reports to capitals in summary would say that Jamaica is asking for a reclassification of its status so that it can get more foreign aid and be included in the handouts reserved for the least developed countries.

This unfortunate démarche goes entirely in the wrong direction. It gives the country an image of begging and does not entice foreign investors and tourists to come to a country that is seeking to associate itself with those incapable of taking care of their own affairs.

Diplomacy is about what you say or do not say, when you say it, how you say it, and to whom you say it. In our view, Minister Nicholson failed in these four essentials on that issue.

He would have been justified in arguing that there is no justification for Jamaica's economic classification because small, middle-income developing countries are a special type of economy and require additional appropriate support at this time of global economic crisis.

The tone is not that of being aggrieved by being unfairly discriminated against. An emphatic and earnest delivery is not it. The case has to be set out cogently and in a way that other countries see their self-interest in supporting our case.

This type of issue is best raised in international economic fora with an audience of finance ministers and development institutions.

By contrast, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding had a technical paper prepared on this issue and made the pitch when he spoke at the G-20 meeting in Canada. He posed this as an issue that had been neglected by the international crisis and the case for new facilities, specifically designed for small middle-income countries, was reinforced by the exigencies of the global economic crisis.

This issue is an easy one to handle because, properly articulated, it would be consistent with a line of reasoning which dates back to the early 1990s. The extent to which it has resonated with the international community is evident in the recognition of the small economy issue in the Commonwealth Finance Ministers annual meeting, in the World Bank section on small economies and in the World Trade Organisation working group on small, vulnerable developing economies.

The minister is new and had no exposure in diplomacy before. However, the deficiencies can be remedied quickly because he's both a scholar and a gentleman.





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