As the March 29, 2019 deadline approaches, Britain and the European Union (EU) have accelerated the Brexit negotiations. In fact, the UK has announced that a tentative agreement has been reached with the EU, which could be revealed at a special summit in mid-November. It was based on the British government’s White Paper/Chequers Plan.
Briefly, the White Paper/Chequers Plan is the British government’s blueprint for a pragmatic agreement with the EU to safeguard Britain’s access to the EU market and protect its economy and territory. At its core is the future of Britain-EU economic and security partnership, protection of jobs, creation of a free trade area for goods in order to avoid problems at the border, end the free movement of people and restore supremacy of UK courts over the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
However, within Britain, views are split over Brexit, and there are calls for a second referendum to enable the British people to have a final say whether to stay in the EU or wait on the final agreement. Even though the discord is within Prime Minister Theresa May’s own Conservative Party, she has insisted that her government will respect the wishes of the people in the referendum for Britain to leave the EU. In other words, May is sticking firm with the plan to divorce Britain from the EU.
As Britain marches towards its date with destiny, policy-makers in the Caribbean ought to be monitoring Brexit developments closely and strategizing on the region’s future relationship with both Britain and the EU. There is little doubt that Britain is a historic trade and development partner, and its assistance in the Caribbean over the years has helped to sustain the region’s economy.
Within the EU, Britain has been a principal trading partner with the Caribbean for goods and services and an access point into other EU members for trade and investment. The EU is also a development partner of the Caribbean, accounting for the bulk of grant funding to the region. While Britain provides funds at the bilateral level to the region, its major funding has been channeled through the European Development Fund.
Therefore, reshaping the EU/UK trade landscape will have a significant impact on the Caribbean at a time of great uncertainty, which is crucial for the Caribbean, including Britain’s dependencies in the region. One reason is, there is a large Caribbean contingent in Britain. And two, Brexit is a bread and butter issue about jobs, growth and trade for the region’s small, open economies.
The EU is responsible for about 15 percent of merchandise trade to the Caribbean and Britain for six percent. Total Caribbean/EU goods trade was valued at about US$9 billion in 2017, with the EU being the region’s second-largest trading partner. Tourist arrivals into the Caribbean from the EU (Germany, France and UK) are second to North American tourists to the region.
The Brexit developments, which are of significant interest to the Caribbean, should be monitored on two fronts—one, by the British dependent territories of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands and two, by CARICOM countries.
In this respect, the leaders of the Caribbean should not only contemplate what the region’s future trade relationship would be with Britain, but how to restructure their relationship with Britain and the EU. The region must forge a strong trading relationship with EU members, such as Germany, France, Ireland, Malta, Sweden, Spain, Netherlands, and Poland, among others. Most Caribbean countries, including Guyana, have diplomatic representation in Brussels, but not in most of the other EU member states.
Brexit has indeed been of concern to the people of the Caribbean; therefore, it would be useful for the region’s leaders to have serious discussions on the implications of Brexit to ensure that once Britain leaves the EU, its preferential trade relations with the Caribbean will continue.
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