Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is warning Caribbean leaders not to expect a major trade deal with the UK when it leaves the European Union (EU).
“I do not think, based on history, that the region can expect any major benefits from England, the UK, when it exits the EU,” Arthur told a public lecture on BREXIT and the new Caribbean Trade Agenda at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management on Tuesday night.
With the opportunity to negotiate new independent trade deals, Britain would gravitate to more powerful nations and the region would be excluded, he argued.
“The Caribbean can hardly occupy any special place on the UK’s agenda once it leaves the European Union,” he said.
Instead, he is advising the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to ensure that any future trade deal brokered with the UK should be one of “a developmental corporation regime”.
Pointing to uncertainties surrounding Brexit and pointing to past experiences under trade deals with the EU, Arthur said there was an urgent need for the region to “recalibrate its trade agenda to remove all of the constraints that is standing in the way of its enterprises penetrating and holding market access and sustained activity on a competitive basis”.
The former Prime Minister told the gathering: “In short, the region needs to build a genuine export culture to be able to function successfully in a globalized economy where trade liberalization has become the dominant practice.”
Arthur said the region failed to take full advantage of the ten-year-old Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which was signed between the regional bloc CARIFORUM and the EU to promote trade between the EU member states and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)states.
He said information sourced from the UK revenue and customs report showed that British imports from CARIFORUM countries declined from £662 million in 2008 to £449 million in 2017.
“Only the middle income public seemed to have taken advantage of the generous market access offered by the EPA,” Arthur declared.
Despite the “generous market access” for CARIFORUM under the EPA, “the region has not been able to significantly diversify its exports to the European market in any substantial way”, said the economist and former finance minister.
The region’s tourism industry has also been unable to receive any “bounty” as a result of the EPA, he added.
Arthur told the audience: “There is no reason to believe that there has been any radical improvement in the penetration of Caribbean service providers to the European Union or the European market.
“In order for the region to have taken advantage of the provisions in the EPA for the movement of natural persons, the market access of the EPA would have to be supplemented by a mutual recognition agreement and visa application agreements between nations from the two groups of nations.
“These matters seemed not to have received the requisite attention since 2008.”.
He called on Caribbean nations to increase their capacity to export, adding that greater focus should be placed on services industries.
But the senior statesman also took a swipe at the EU, accusing Brussels of “launching an assault” on the Caribbean financial services sector through the creation of blacklists and threats of sanctions.
Arthur said: “There is no basis in international public law for the European Union to first of all ask other countries to change their tax laws, and secondly, to do so on the threat that they would enforce sanctions.” [email protected]