The BRICs and ourselves

Last week, in the light of a recent meeting of the grouping known as the BRICs, we looked at the relationship between them and the traditional major powers. In that context we asked what significance the rise of these emerging powers, as they are now called, might have for small countries like ours. The designation ‘emerging power’ is generally taken to mean that these states have been giving indications of a capability for persistent economic growth with production capable of matching some of the current major economic powers; and that it is to be assumed that such economic strength will permit them to influence global political and economic changes.

With a few exceptions most of the Caricom states have recognized the People’s Republic of China, following the United Nations’ 1971 vote accepting the Chinese edict, “There is but one China.” And it is most likely that today, China takes the view that those countries still recognizing Taiwan as some kind of legitimate China do so more out of their belief that there are some short-term economic gains that can be more easily achieved as that island desperately seeks to hold on to the remaining few supporting its cause. So for China the issue of recognition, while one of principle, no longer has the political salience that it did before 1971. And this is so particularly as the relations between itself and Taiwan become increasingly more economically intertwined, and because of its firm belief in an inevitable juridical subordination of Taiwan that, however disguised over time, will come to pass.

From a Caricom standpoint it can hardly as yet be said that we have adopted, or begun to define, a stance towards China that is holistic. By this we mean placing any contribution that China would want to make to our development in a context that can be described in today’s terms as assisting the Caribbean region in its efforts of adjustment to a rapidly changing trade environment. We contrast this orientation with the kinds of arrangements that we currently have with China, where that country makes what we can call piecemeal or spasmodic contributions to each country’s development, outside of any perspective that we have given to them on our needs as a region. So, for example, while we are prepared to preach to the old powers like Britain and others in Europe that effective planning for our countries’ adjustment to the ongoing changes in the terms of production and trade, requires a special consideration of the vulnerabilities deriving from our small size and the regional implications of this, we see no indication of such a collective emphasis to China, outside of what we say in the international institutions.

On the other hand, Brazil’s successful initiatives in the WTO, as that country reacts to global changes in the production and trade arena originally initiated by the United States in the Uruguay Round and after, have now forced some, at least, of our states, to begin to develop a specific stance towards that country. This is most visible, of course, in the case of Guyana, conscious as it is of the possible effects of the ongoing WTO decisions and discussions by Brazil and other Latin American and African states with the US, on this country’s trade in sugar and rice. Following the original WTO decisions on sugar and cotton, President Lula felt constrained to indicate his country’s awareness of the possible effects of these on his country’s smaller neighbours. He seemed to indicate his understanding of the meaning, for us, of Brazil’s strategic fights with the major economic powers, and to suggest ways in which our situation might be alleviated in the short and medium terms.

Brazil, of course has, over the years, developed its own strategies of economic relationships with neighbouring states. These, elaborated in the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA), focus in particular on the concept of infrastructural development through cross-border projects capable of creating the kind of scale required for competition among the larger powers of the world, and utilizing as a working medium the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Brazil’s orientation is that the creation of such scale permits competitive production and therefore effective participation in international trade among the industrially developed states. It is undoubtedly the case that it sees the two Caricom states of Guyana and Suriname as coming within the frame of neighbouring states, and to that end has welcomed these and related countries into institutions like the Rio Group and UNASUR. Discussions in Guyana on the implications of the establishment of the Takutu Bridge and on other projects recently elaborated, illustrate the trend.

In practice, however, from a wider Caricom standpoint,  the implications of the IIRSA initiative should surely be perceived and elaborated by our states as implied in their participation in the functioning of the recently formally promoted Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. But this kind of effort requires extensive collective preparation and commitment to persistent implementation of a kind which we have not seen in recent times in our region. The smaller states of Caricom are effectively excluded from full participation in the IDB, but it must surely be the case that a holistic approach to our own regional integration process, where regional integration is seen as a mechanism towards the advancement of development through appropriate scale, would facilitate their participation in the IIRSA now being applied in the wider South American continent.

Caricom has gone some way in producing what is described as a development vision, through the work of Professor Norman Girvan and his colleagues, designed to assist us to face the global challenge through collective action. We complain today that the development cooperation side of the EPA negotiations has not been brought to the fore, and we sometimes seem to be content to accept the EU assertion that it will be taken care of in the Cotonou arrangements up to 2020. Do we not need a reassessment of our position to the EU that would involve immediate preparation of strategies and projects to facilitate our response to the rapidly declining conditions of production and trade induced by WTO requirements?

And should we not link this to what we think could be attained in that regard through the IIRSA initiative? Are we ready to think in such depth, and at least begin an effective demarche to the sole BRIC in our neighbourhood?

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