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Amid Stormy Waters, Caribbean Tacks South

CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Jul 9 2012 (IPS) - The Eurozone crisis and growing influence of countries like China and Brazil are leading the Caribbean to reassess its dependence on traditional trade and aid partners.

Following a three-day annual summit of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) over the weekend, Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart called for more diverse and active engagement, including stronger ties with fellow nations of the South, than the bloc has pursued previously.

There is “a new sensitivity to the need to treat foreign policy more seriously”, he concluded.

While not foregoing relations with longstanding partners in Europe and North America, a consensus emerged among Caribbean leaders that it is time to re-evaluate the region’s vulnerable position on issues such as trade and climate change, and seek new strategic allies.

“The global economy is undergoing rapid structural changes, including the fact that growth is driven today by new and emerging centres of economic activity. These include countries that are geographically proximate to ours such as Brazil, and with which we have historically strong relations such as China,” said Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar.

“Our region must respond to these realities by developing closer ties with these countries and also by exploring new frontiers of opportunity for beneficial bilateral relations,” he added.

St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony has said that he will use his six-month stint as chairman of the 15-member grouping to re-direct the region’s foreign policy to better reflect current realities, including that the prospects for global growth will be largely determined by decisions made in Beijing.

Anthony noted that China is on course to become the world’s largest economy in the next few years, as well as being a superpower in its own right. With 60 percent of the global population residing in Asia, along with 22 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), it made sense for the Caribbean to look in that direction.

Latin America and Africa also provide opportunities for the Caribbean in areas like trade, tourism, technology, education and cultural fusion.

The new foreign policy initiative by the Caribbean is perhaps also driven by the new direction of the European Union (EU), which according to the Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Rocque could result in some Caribbean countries being deprived of much needed funds for development projects as Europe contemplates graduating the region out of access to the current level of funding.

“This latest situation is added to the fact that the flows of development assistance to Caricom countries have been decreasing and at least in the short term will continue to do so,” he said blaming the global contraction in bilateral aid on problems in the Eurozone.

“We are all aware that Europe now faces an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. Europe will never be the same again. We need not be naive of the likely impacts that these may have on future assistance from the European Union,” Anthony noted.

The Caribbean leaders were addressed by the secretary general of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who noted that Europe’s “Agenda for Change” launched last year outlines a new framework for EU development policy in the years ahead.

“The aim is to streamline the EU’s development assistance and to ensure greater effectiveness and development impact in light of recent economic and geopolitical changes,” he said, noting that a major concern in this connection has been the new discourse on ‘differentiation’, by which the EU is seeking to remove high middle income countries and countries with a gross domestic product (GDP) larger than one percent of total global GDP from its Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI).

“We are aware that Europe itself is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis. It seems clear that they are determined to rationalise the deployment of financial transfers to developing countries in a manner that could significantly undermine resource flows to high middle-income countries, many of which are in the Caribbean.

“We at the Secretariat have strenuously sought to explain to our European colleagues that over-reliance on blanket GDP figures do not tell the full story of poverty in our countries. Nor does it do justice to crucial challenges such as climate change and the structural vulnerability of many of our apparently more affluent ACP countries,” Chambras added.

He said global re-alignments and major shifts in EU policy orientations have given rise to concerns of possible downgrading of the importance of the ACP-EU Partnership, noting that “the EU’s neighbourhood focus with regard to Eastern Europe and North Africa, and its rapprochement with Latin America and the general thrust of its development policy re-orientation has led to some anxiety among our ACP members”.

There’s an old African saying, Chambras said: “’When the music changes, so does the dance’. Clearly, the music is changing not only in Europe but also globally.”

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