The United States Department of State intends to convene an annual meeting with Caribbean leaders as part of efforts to increase institutionalized engagement for more effective coordination.
This is even as it works to tap into the large Caribbean Diaspora in the US as support for its Caribbean policy agenda and while the US government plans to leverage both national and international public finance resources to help energy project developers mitigate technical and political risks to be found in Caribbean Nations.
This is according to the latest US Government Multi-Year Strategy for Engagement with the Caribbean.
Dubbed, Caribbean 2020: A Multi-Year Strategy to Increase the Security, Prosperity, and Well-Being of the People of the United States and the Caribbean, the strategy coordinated with the interagency, identifies the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) priorities for US engagement with the Caribbean region in the areas of security, diplomacy, prosperity, energy, education, and health. It comes amid growing qualms about the Trump administration’s plans to cut spending at the State Department roll back aid programmes.
The strategy which is posted on the State Department Website identifies the Caribbean region as the “third border,” of US, characterized by common interests and societal ties that yield daily, tangible benefits for U.S. citizens.
Included among these benefits is a 2016 trade surplus of $4.6 billion realised from being the primary trading partner of the Caribbean. Additional benefits include 14 million U.S. tourist visits, and 11,042 Caribbean students studying in the United States during the same year.
According to the strategy along with these benefits come common threats such as crime and terrorism.
“Small, but significant, numbers of violent extremists from the region have joined ISIS. Caribbean countries have some of the highest murder rates in the world. Rising crime and endemic corruption threaten governments’ ability to provide security and good governance. They also drive irregular migration to the United States,” the report notes before explaining that the US must be prepared for transnational criminal organizations to shift more of their operations to the Caribbean as a transit point for drugs, migrants, weapons, and other illicit activity.
As a result of these concerns the country intends to work with Caribbean nations to ensure ISIS is denied a foothold in the region, dismantle illicit trafficking networks, enhance maritime security, confront violent and organized crime, and increase the sharing of threat information among countries.
“Our diplomacy will both raise the political level of our dialogue with the Caribbean and focus it more tightly on this strategy’s six priorities,” the strategy notes.
Mutual national security is to be strengthened and the safety of citizens advanced through the pursuit of programmes to dismantle transnational criminal and terrorist organizations, curb the trafficking and smuggling of illicit goods and people, strengthen the rule of law, improve citizen security, and counter vulnerability to terrorist threats.
These programmes will include support for law enforcement and border-control agencies, defence forces, and regional security institutions in the form of training, equipment, institution-building programmes, technical assistance, and operational collaboration. All with the aim of strengthening partnership in the fight against transnational criminal and terrorist organizations.
“We will help improve cooperation, accountability, and trust between the security forces and public,” the US promises explaining that their government will bolster partnerships with governments and civil society to prevent, investigate, and prosecute terrorism; to counter terrorist financing and facilitation networks; to reduce the vulnerability to radicalization; and to improve border security.
Governments’ capacity to investigate and prosecute domestic and transnational crime, assist victims, dismantle criminal organizations, and expand rehabilitation options for juvenile offenders are all to be improved even as the US states it will “define” a common operational framework to tackle shared threats and promote law enforcement information sharing.
Educational, economic, and social opportunities are to be provided as a means to help partner governments build the resilience of at-risk youth and communities while support will be offered for efforts to prevent and prosecute corruption, increase government effectiveness, and build national and regional crime monitoring institutions to ensure crime prevention programs are well-targeted.
Noting that the US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 reflects broad interest in more robust and regular engagement between Caribbean leaders and the U.S. government the strategy explains that Department, with the support and participation of relevant interagency and Congressional leaders, will convene an annual consultative meeting with Caribbean leaders.
It is this meeting which will provide a venue for advancing the agenda outlined in the strategy and increase institutionalized engagement leading to more effective coordination of the disparate components of the U.S.-Caribbean relationship and forging greater multilateral cooperation at the Organization of American States and United Nations.
Specific effort is to be made, if funding becomes available, for the department to explore expanding its diplomatic and consular presence in Eastern Caribbean countries that do not currently host a permanent U.S. diplomatic mission while the robust Caribbean diaspora community in the United States is to be tapped into to promoting the goals of this strategy.
“We will increase our own and our neighbors’ prosperity by promoting sustainable growth, open markets for U.S. exports, and private sector-led investment and development,” the strategy proclaims. It explained that a trade and investment conference with Caribbean countries will be held.
This conference is to be focused on increasing bilateral trade and improving the region’s investment climate and regulatory environment even as the Direct Line program will be used to highlight U.S. export and investment opportunities.
All these are to act as support for U.S. exports and job creation.
“Understanding the mutual benefit of a prosperous Caribbean basin, we will engage with our Caribbean partners to promote sustainable economic policies and job-creating, private sector-led growth, utilizing trade preference programs and key forums such as the U.S.-CARICOM Trade and Investment Council,” the strategy explains.
Private sector growth and Small Business Development have been identified as means to create new markets for U.S. businesses as have increased connectivity, increased compliance with agricultural standards, increased travel and sustainable tourism.
As such the US government has expressed the intention of advancing the growth and formalization of small- and medium-sized enterprises; seeking opportunities to empower women and youth entrepreneurs and increasing US engagement with policy and regulatory authorities as well as U.S. information-technology leaders, to promote broadband development and deployment.
Noting that Caribbean consumers pay on average three times as much for electricity as U.S. consumers, creating a drag on their economies and an opportunity for mutually beneficial cooperation, the United States has expressed its intention to increase the use of low cost, reliable sources of energy to spur economic development. This development is expected to create new opportunities for globally competitive U.S. energy firms and exports.
The U.S. will leverage both national and international public finance resources to help energy project developers mitigate technical and political risks. The intention is to reduce the region’s reliance on imported fuels and create openings for U.S. private sector investment and public-private partnerships.
Other efforts in this sector include that promotion of Energy Sector Reforms. This will be achieved through the provision of targeted technical support to countries with the capacity and interest in pursuing energy sector as well as utility reforms to spur private investment and U.S. energy technology exports.
Additionally there will be continuation of integrated resource planning efforts and regulatory reforms to encourage governments and utilities to make transparent and economically viable decisions regarding capacity improvements that mitigate risk for U.S. investors and lower costs for consumers.
Efforts by CARICOM and others to strengthen the regional platform coordinating energy planning to achieve economies of scale will also find support.