UN SDGs and C'bean 'friends' at the US table

BY Elizabeth Morgan

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

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AS a reminder, the UN Agenda 2030 and its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) form the global development plan to which Jamaica's National Development Plan, Vision 2030, is now aligned.

The UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development first met in 2014, replacing the existing committee on sustainable development. The HLPF meets annually and now has primary responsibility for the follow-up and review of the UN 2030 Agenda and its SDGs.

The 2018 HLPF was held in New York from July 9-18 with the ministerial session held July 16-18 under the theme: 'Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies'. Jamaica's delegation to the Ministerial session was led by the minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Pearnel Charles Jr. Jamaica and the Bahamas were among the 46 countries presenting voluntary national reviews of the implementation of the SDGs.

The HLPF focused on implementation of six of the 17 SDGs. Goal 17, addressing the critical means of implementation, development finance and international trade, is permanently on the agenda.

The ministerial declaration adopted at the conclusion of the forum acknowledged that while some progress has been made to implement the goals, it has been uneven across countries and regions, and needs to be accelerated. The ministers also recognised that the most vulnerable countries, including small-island developing states (SIDS), need special attention and that many middle-income countries (MICs) also have serious challenges. Jamaica and other Caricom countries are SIDS and MICs.

On Goal 17, means of implementation, and specifically on international trade, the ministers committed to taking concrete and immediate action to create the necessary enabling environment at all levels to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The ministers indicated their intention to continue promoting a universal, rules-based, open, transparent, predictable, inclusive, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as meaningful trade liberalisation. This sounds quite optimistic and ambitious.

During the ministerial session, however, the reference to the WTO became problematic as the USA objected to it. The US was of the view that the WTO was not a UN body and thus mention of it was inappropriate and did not respect its independence. As a result, the US was one of only two countries to vote against the ministerial declaration. There was more to this than just a matter of the independence of the WTO. It reflected the Trump Administration's lukewarm, if not antagonistic, stance on multilateral trade.

The WTO has just announced that its 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) will be held in Kazakhstan in 2020. If the Trump Administration has its way, the agenda will be heavily influenced by the USA and will be limited in coverage. The USA, with others, has actively sought to sideline the Doha Round since the 2015 MC10 in Nairobi.

At present, it is not clear what the international trade agenda holds for countries in Caricom.

Like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which they succeeded, it is very possible that the SDGs could be derailed by a lack of meaningful progress in global trade.

The next HLPF is scheduled to be held in 2019 under the theme 'Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness”. It will be interesting to see how the international trade agenda unfolds as work resumes in the major world centres in September.

Support for Caribbean trade and economic interests in the USA

I was recently surprised to read that the non-profit Caribbean-Central American Action (CCAA), formed nearly 40 years ago by US and regional business leaders based in Washington, DC, will close at the end of this month. As it states in the farewell letter on its website, the CCAA was an advocate for the region in the USA with its focus on advancing economic growth and contributing to the well-being of the peoples of the Caribbean and Central America. This closure was raised by David Jessop of the Caribbean Council in the UK in his syndicated column published in the Sunday Gleaner of October 7, 2018, titled 'The Caribbean has lost a Friend' and in a letter by Wesley Kirton, president of the Guyana American Chamber of Commerce in Florida to the editor of Guyana's Stabroek News on October 10, 2018, titled 'CCAA has folded when it is most needed'. It is noted that concern about this closure was not raised from within the Caribbean as is the case with so many issues.

In the 1980s, the CCAA actively supported the adoption of legislation for the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). It continued to support the interests of the Caribbean and Central American countries through organising conferences, seminars and workshops, among other activities. In recent times, its principal vehicles have been the annual Miami Conference on the Caribbean and sensitisation sessions with congressional representatives on Capitol Hill, which brought together officials from the USA and the Caribbean and Central America from government, the private sector and civil society.

Views on the effectiveness of CCAA are mixed. It seems that although leaders from the Caribbean continued to attend the conference on the Caribbean, in the last 20 years, the Caribbean engagement with CCAA was tenuous. It could be that it was taken for granted that CCAA was self-supporting, self-motivated, and would continue to exist. The dialogue between CCAA and its Caribbean stakeholders perhaps needed to be more rigorous to ensure that the body was meeting the specific needs of the region and to encourage more Caribbean private sector engagement. There might also have been need for better coordination with other existing groups.

Many countries need to have their interests promoted in Washington, DC, and have well-organised and financed interest groups. Others hire lobbyists to provide this support. As small, developing countries, the Caribbean, although all countries are represented in Washington, DC, lacks resources. Diplomatic representatives are stretched covering both the USA and the Organization of American States (OAS). Even though it is supposed to be the USA's “third border”, the region needs the support of others to continuously keep its interests within sight of those in the Federal corridors of power.

The Caribbean does have support in the USA, in Congress, through the bipartisan Caribbean Caucus co-chaired by representatives Yvette Clarke (Dem) of New York and Maxine Waters (Dem) of California, and in the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2005, representative Barbara Lee (Dem) of California, with the Caribbean Caucus, secured adoption of legislation establishing the annual Caribbean American Heritage Month celebrated each June. The month is intended to recognise the contribution to America's development of persons of Caribbean origin and ancestry. Recall that famed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton came from Nevis. More recently, former Secretary of State Colin Powell has Jamaican ancestry, as does representative Yvette Clarke, who was honoured by Jamaica on National Heroes' Day, along with Harry Belafonte and Grace Jones. So the Caribbean American Heritage Month provides the opportunity to focus on the achievements of Caribbean-Americans and on Caribbean culture as well as to promote issues of interest to the region. I understand that the Institute of Caribbean Studies in Washington, DC, endeavours to use the month for this purpose.

The 2016 US/Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act was sponsored by Representative Eliot Engels (Dem) of New York and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep) of Florida, both having interest in the Caribbean through their constituents. The 2017 Bill proposing the extension of the CBI's Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) is sponsored by representatives Terri Sewel (Dem) of Alabama and representative Carlos Curbello (Rep) of Florida, who were not customarily known proponents of Caribbean issues. They acted following the severe damage in the Caribbean from hurricanes Marie and Irma.

The American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), headquartered in Washington, DC, operates in the Caribbean with offices in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. AMCHAM is affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce and promotes trade and investment between the USA and its member countries.

While the Caribbean has friends in the US Congress, support from within the private sector and civil society, and definitely in the Diaspora, there is no doubt that the CCAA, as a permanent advocate and source of information and assistance, will be missed. The annual conference on the Caribbean, usually held in December, provided another forum outside of the Heritage Month to focus at a high level, specifically on Caribbean trade and economic issues.

With the demise of CCAA, I hope that the groups working to strengthen Caribbean/US relations, especially in trade and economic issues, will better coordinate and actually follow a clear agenda in a more sustained manner. The 2017 US Strategy for Engagement with the Caribbean provides a guide. The Caribbean private sector needs to better organise itself to collaborate with these interest groups both in the Caribbean and the USA. Especially at this time, the Caribbean needs cohesive, sustained and effective support within the USA.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade and politics. Send comments to the Observer or elizabethmorganstliz@gmail.com.

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