INTERNATIONAL trade is vital to the survival and economic growth of small vulnerable developing economies (SVDEs). The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the international agency charged with negotiation of the rules which constitute the multilateral trading system. The implementation and the adjudication of disputes in the interpretation and application of the rules also fall within its purview.
Caricom has long felt that the WTO has not adequately incorporated sufficient sensitivity to the problems and concerns of SVDEs. In fact, we have suffered a loss of preferential trade arrangements in bananas and sugar because they conflict with the free trade principles of the WTO.
It is clear that what happens at the WTO can have positive or negative repercussions for Caricom. The views of the WTO director general can influence the agency's policies. Therefore, the person holding that post is an issue of vital importance to Caricom.
The current director general, Mr Pascal Lamy, demits office shortly, and his replacement must be elected by January 29. Nine candidates have been nominated to date and Caricom countries will have the option of voting their choice.
The Treaty of Chaguaramas mandates Caricom to co-ordinate collective action on foreign policy issues. This, however, has not always happened, and when the region fragments from internal differences, or allows itself to be divided, it has diminished its already limited influence in international affairs.
The Summit of the Americas versus ALBA and the Falklands/Malvinas issue stand as perfect examples.
We believe that Caricom should decide on supporting a single candidate for the WTO post because 14 votes can make a difference, even though WTO membership is nearly 200. The strategic objectives of this are first, to ensure that the WTO director general is sympathetic to our concerns; second, to extract a commitment for special and differential treatment for SVDEs; and third, to create an IOU to be cashed in at a crucial time.
We make these points, which should be obvious, because of the history of Caricom and the absence of any move, that we are aware of, to collaborate on this issue.
In considering which candidate to support, Caricom should weigh the personal qualifications and political merits of their choice. Of the nine, the New Zealander is not likely to succeed, given that they have had the post in recent times.
Some have thin resumés and are clearly looking for one of the three deputy director general posts, while three good candidates from Latin America will split that region and undermine the chances of all.
The Mexican and Costa Rican candidates are strong, with the latter having the advantage that a woman has never held the post. However, Caricom cannot support a Costa Rican candidate because that country has consistently opposed special treatment for SVDEs.
The Korean candidate is a well-qualified economist with limited political experience at the highest levels.
Mr Alan Kyerematen, minister of trade and industry in Ghana since 2003, has a wealth of experience at the highest levels in a variety of international fora. He is a graduate in Economics from the University of Ghana, a barrister-at-law, and is currently co-ordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
It is noteworthy that an African has never held the post of WTO director general.