Let’s be partners – the EU’s new message to the Caribbean
By Debbie Ransome
This year is about to see an improvement in relations between the European Union and the Caribbean – but this time on a different footing and only if the Caribbean is ready for a new way of doing business with Europe.
John Caloghirou is head of the External Action Service (Americas Department) at the Caribbean Division of the European Commission (EC).
In an interview with Caribbean Intelligence©, he outlined plans to finalise what he describes as the biggest European Union (EU) development and partnership fund.
The Caribbean, he says, has not been forgotten as the EU has increased its membership and weathered the economic and political shocks of the last few years.
Mr Caloghirou acknowledges the original role of partner relationships that member states such as Britain, France and Spain brought with them into the early EU floorplan.
He told Caribbean Intelligence© that, apart from the traditional bilateral ties that some Caribbean nations have with certain EU members, “there is a feeling in Europe that partnering with the Caribbean is something which is of value and something that will carry on over time.
“We have shared values with the Caribbean – human rights, democracy, rule of law and all of that counts with the European Union,” he explains.
End of preferences
After years of battle at the World Trade Organisation, the Caribbean and its former EU colonially-linked nations saw traditional preferential trade deals
between African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations and the EU swept aside.
Then came the replacement of the one-size-fits-all Cotonou trade deal with the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), followed by the Joint Caribbean EU Partnership Strategy.
It was under the Partnership Strategy that Europe set out to develop more tailored deals with, say, higher or lower-income countries and smaller and bigger states and regions within the old ACP grouping, depending on income and financial status.
“We can be stronger partners, rather than [having] donor-beneficiary relationships,” Mr Caloghirou told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“The joint strategy is aimed at raising the level of the relationship, if you like, from one based on traditional development to one which involves enhanced political dialogue, bringing the whole relationship to a situation where we join forces whenever our interests coincide.”
Is the Caribbean ready?
However, it takes two to do a deal and many commentators question Caribbean nations' ability to work together, work strategically and move quickly towards deals in the changing global economic climate.
David Jessop, executive director of the Caribbean Council for Europe
, wrote in December 2012 in his regular column for the Caribbean: “The development of this little-known new policy initiative with Europe is worrying for exactly the same reasons that were present during the EPA negotiations.
“It suggests yet again that the Caribbean is entering into a strategically important arrangement when the world around it is changing and before it has a clear future strategy of its own.”
The Caribbean Council has been the long-term specialist adviser for the Caribbean during the decades of battles at the WTO and as the new post-preferential financial world starts to shape up.
Whether Caribbean countries are ready or not to negotiate deals under such rapidly changing economic times has little or no effect on the speed at which such global developments are taking place.
On 26 and 27 January, key European leaders met in Chile to talk with Latin American countries perceived as doing well in the rapidly emerging markets of the region in South America.
The Summit of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) provided an alternative platform to the UN's long-standing Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
And even though Europe did not get the free trade agreement
it wanted with the South American trading bloc Mercosur, it did get a final declaration on reliability and legal security for European investments.
After the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "The most important thing for the countries here is that they have the impression that we as the eurozone overcame the crisis together and did not leave individual countries high and dry."
The CELAC meeting indicated how Europe is seeking to engage Latin America and the Caribbean in its investment and sustainable development message.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said ahead of the Chile summit
: “Our long-standing partnership with Latin American and Caribbean countries is based on the conviction that both sides have common interests in today's interdependent world and greatly benefit from working together.
“The summit will deal with a key aspect of our relationship: investment and sustainable development. The EU is not only the leading foreign investor in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also a committed partner in promoting sustainable development. Social and environmental responsibility must be a shared priority for the future of both regions.”
David Jessop again issued advice to the Caribbean, this time in his 19 January column.
“What is far from clear is how much of the Caribbean will benefit from the [CELAC] event when it lacks the economic dynamism to make it attractive; is not moving at the same pace as Latin nations; has failed to integrate or implement new trade relationships; and is in danger of being eclipsed by its Latin neighbours in almost all respects other than its voting weight.
“For the last decade, China, the European Union, the United States and multilateral institutions have been developing policies that describe the Latin American and Caribbean as if it were a single entity; wishing to see the LAC region, as they describe it, as a coherent political or economic whole.
“The reality is very different.”
As the world has dealt with a series of financial body blows since 2009 and new promising economic giants have emerged in Asia and South America, Caribbean-EU relations have not been exactly at the top of Brussels' to-do list.
Back with the architects of a possible new EU-Caribbean relationship, Mr Caloghirou is optimistic that the Caribbean region is still very much on the agenda of a bigger, busier Europe.
Asked by Caribbean Intelligence© about whether the EU had forgotten the Caribbean, Mr Caloghirou’s response was short and to the point: “That is not the case.”
One of the areas in which the EU’s Caribbean Division thinks it can be of relevance to the region is in helping it to build resilience in the continuing face of global economic problems.
It would not harm Europe either to do business with a region which is not so easily felled by the ebb and flow of global economic changes.
Small islands, Mr Caloghirou points out, have no more power than larger ones to stop the global economic shocks which will continue for the foreseeable future.
"It’s about being in a position to weather shocks and to bounce back from shocks in a resilient way,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
He describes what he calls a “holistic approach” - not dealing with individual sectors, but helping smaller nations towards economic diversification, good governance, local market efficiency, attractive investment environments and social cohesion.
Integration is a key word
For Caricom, too, there is the pressing need to come up with a joint strategy to deal with a rapidly changing world.
This is where the EU says it can help.
In 2012, the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) promised 165m euros to support regional integration in the Caribbean.
Robert Kopecky, who headed an EU delegation to the Caricom Secretariat in March 2012
, put the emphasis on integration at the signing of the financing agreements.
“In financial terms, this concretely means that the European Union is today providing a total of 82.6m euros [approximately US$110m] to the Caribbean Forum of the ACP States - Cariforum - with the main objective to assist the region, both at the Caricom and OECS level, in its integration efforts,” he said at the ceremony.
As the EU presses ahead with its attempts to get an integrated Caricom to do deals, regional analysts continue to question whether the region can keep up with the changing challenges.
The Jamaica Observer said in a 27 December editorial
: “Truth is, Caricom countries have devoted more energy to mendicancy than to strategies of economic development suitable for the reality in which we exist.
“This worked for a long time in the form of retaining preferential trade arrangements and financial aid, but there is an increasing level of donor fatigue in Europe and the United States.”
John Caloghirou remains optimistic as he pulls together what he describes as an EU-Caribbean strategy “for the longer term”.
Europe itself has worked patiently to bring a wide range of economies – from the traditional western European nations to the new post-Soviet Eastern European states – into its long-term strategies.
It seems that this economic planning patience extends to its external negotiating units.
“We don’t expect that there will be a break in the relationship [with the Caribbean],” Mr Caloghirou told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“The relationship will continue.”