Monday, April 22, 2024

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Trump expectations

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As the Donald Trump era begins after Friday’s presidential inauguration in Washington D.C., Lloyd Lovell, a Bajan businessman in Denver, Colorado has a bit of advice for his birthplace and its neighbours: the Caribbean shouldn’t expect much, if anything at all, to boost the area’s economy at least in the early stages.

Reasons abound for that practical suggestion. Heading the list is the new United States president is a hard-nosed billionaire who knows far more about the art of making a profitable deal than running a government. After all, Caribbean states, especially those whose people speak English or Creole, aren’t places where billion-dollar deals are routinely made.

A lot on his plate

“President Trump has a lot on his plate. Everything from fulfilling campaign pledges about the US infrastructure, repealing Obamacare and building a wall along the US-Mexican border to fighting battles with the American intelligence community for him to worry about Caribbean states with sun, sea and sand,” said Lovell, who for 15 years was on the board of directors of the World Trade Centre in Colorado’s best known city.

“Trump isn’t a politician who must compromise to get things done, but is a businessman whose approach reflects his corporate experience.”

Third, Trump’s cabinet members are going to be much too busy pursuing a domestic agenda to focus attention on an archipelago of small islands with tiny budgets and small populations.

“What that means is that CARICOM states are going to be on their own and they must leverage what they have,” such as their small size and geographic proximity to the US, added Lovell, an entrepreneur who runs his own company, LFL International, which manages housing, construction and infrastructural development contracts.

Winston Cox, a former Central Bank governor who served on the executive board of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, but now lives with his wife in Quebec, Canada, wasn’t prepared to go as far Lovell.

“I really need to get some kind of understanding of what will be the economic policies of the new president of the United States,” said Cox.

“It’s not only his economic policies, but his whole behaviour is such that it would have influence on the world and lead to unpredictability in global affairs that would in turn affect Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean.

“I am deeply troubled by what I hear from Trump about the global economy.”

He isn’t alone. America’s economic and military allies in Europe have been thrown off balance by Trump’s rhetoric such as suggesting that NATO member-countries must pay their fair share of the cost of their own security and protection, a warning that was followed by a hint that the US may walk away from its traditional alliances if things don’t change. That attitude may apply to Japan.

And how would that style affect small countries like those in CARICOM?

“If Mr Trump enacts even a fraction of his mercantilist rhetoric, he risks neutering the World Trade Organisation,” warned the Economist newspaper. 

“If he thinks America’s allies are failing to pay for the security they receive, he has threatened to walk away from them.

The result – especially for small countries that today are protected by global rules – will be a harsher and more unstable world.”

It’s a scary environment that may loom on the horizon, one in which the US will increasingly look inward, instead of viewing the world through global lenses. But the US isn’t alone.

The Brexit vote in the UK where a slim majority of voters opted to leave the European Union is a reflection of that narrow thinking and Barbados and others in the Western Hemisphere are bound to be adversely affected economically.

“During the presidential campaign, I didn’t hear a single mention of the Caribbean and its economic revitalisation from Trump or Hillary Clinton,” said Charlie Skeete who, like Cox, sat on the IDB’s executive Board.

“That fact suggests that Caribbean states aren’t on Trump’s list of priorities. We will have to wait and see.”

However, what he did hear quite a lot about was Trump’s determination to  “Make America great again” and that can mean ripping apart many of the global and hemispheric economic and social agreements.

Among them would be the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

He also wrongly describes climate change as a scientific myth and the global pact agreed to in Paris in 2015 as not being worth the paper on which it was written.

Little wonder, then, that Trump seems ready to pick a quarrel with China over its currency and global economic programmes and it also indicates why he may unwisely seek to reverse the positive steps Obama took to lift Cuba out of the diplomatic doghouse in which it was locked away for half a century.

“There is a concern in the diplomatic community about the future of US relations with Cuba and many heads of mission are wondering what’s next,” Donna Forde, the head of Barbados’ embassy in Havana told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.

“We are waiting to see what happens after the Trump Administration succeeds” the Obama White House.

When the CARICOM Council of Ministers met recently, its members said the Caribbean was looking forward to working with the Trump administration and advancing the provisions of the US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 which Obama signed last December.

That measure envisages deeper economic and social ties between Washington and the Caribbean, plus their diaspora.

Only time will tell if this well-meaning initiative will be taken seriously by the Trump team.

Bipartisan initiative

A saving grace is that the Strategic Engagement Act was the product of a bipartisan Democratic and Republican effort in the House of Representatives and therefore wouldn’t be considered by Trump an Obama initiative that must be destroyed or treated with indifference.

Unlike Obama, who had a world view, Trump seems wedded to a belief that far too many foreign lands are freeloaders instead of partners and therefore must be held at bay by a new nationalism.

For a country which helped to give the world the United Nations, Organisation of American States, the World Bank, IDB, the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation, it’s a pity that inward thinking may soon become the order of the day in Washington. That too, would hurt the Caribbean.

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