A possible win-win for UK-Caribbean relations
Rishi Sunak leaves the Conservative Campaign Headquarters in London, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. (Photo: AP)

In a brief visit to Jamaica, Britain's then Minister for the Americas Mr Jesse Norman seemed to offer a fresh vision for the United Kingdom as the Caribbean's partner of choice. He's no longer in that position, but it would be a shame to ignore the possibilities he offered.

For a variety of reasons, since the demise of sugar, the Caribbean has appeared to be of less interest to the UK, and vice versa, as the region is now dominated by its trading relationship with the US. The UK decisively shifted its trade to Europe over the period, reducing business with even some of the big countries of the Commonwealth.

At least one of the UK's political parties seemed to be less interested in the historical relationship, or focus on Europe, or cost-cutting, as evidenced by the departure of the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) at the end of the 1990s.

Export deals from the UK to Jamaica were effectively discouraged due to our poor market ratings at that time, in sharp contrast to the forward-leaning posture of the export credit agencies of, say, France and China.

All of this has now changed with the launch of the British International Investment (BII) in Kingston, according to Mr Norman, putting it "at the heart of Caribbean business development".

The BII, he said, "is a key part of our ambition to mobilise up to £8 billion a year of public and private sector investment by 2025 across the developing world".

The UK now has a prime minister with strong ties to India, which has just supplanted the UK as the fifth-largest economy in the world. He should, therefore, be ideally placed to reinvigorate the concept of a Commonwealth special relationship, an overdue trade reset from Europe which, incidentally, Jamaica was not wrong in thinking needed new direction.

While a true focus by the UK on the much bigger markets of Africa and India is long overdue, a beneficial partnership for both the UK, Jamaica, and the wider Caribbean in tapping into these future growth markets is certainly possible.

A starting point might be to revive the idea of a Commonwealth skills certificate and free movement of labour across the Commonwealth for people, with some minor registration procedures, itself also a Caribbean objective.

The basis for this already exists with global UK-driven standards in accounting and law, and much of the Commonwealth having a very similar education system in areas such as medicine and education.

Obviously, this would be a coalition of the willing, but a UK/Caricom relationship would be the ideal place to start as we are already trying to standardise across the countries in our region.

An expansion of the successful Chevening programme, allowing more Caribbean nationals to study in the UK, would fit nicely into such a strategy.

Additionally, an even more aggressive leaning forward of the BII and the UK export credit agencies to decisively out-compete China and others in this area, allowing, say, the return of UK construction companies to the region, could be part of the package.

While this may fall short of a Marshall Plan for the Caribbean — a form of reparation as advocated by telecom magnate Mr Denis O'Brien — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is particularly well placed to understand why the approach outlined here is really a very small down payment on a moral obligation.

That, positioned correctly, could become a true win-win for the UK, the Caribbean, and the wider world as an example of what can be done by taking a positive view or reset of a complicated historical relationship.

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