It’s been some time since my last post. Of course, I haven’t been silent for lack of things to write about. Here is a snapshot of some of the issues that I’ve been following, all of which will be addressed in greater detail in subsequent posts:
- Having made the link between trade, exports, and jobs, President Obama’s trade policy is evolving to be more free trade-oriented than one would have expected based on Candidate Obama’s speeches. This direction, however, will place him just as much at odds with the Democratic congress as was President Bush on this issue. Will we finally see some compromise emerge that will lead to approval of the trade deals with Colombia, Korea, and Panama and to consensus that will strengthen the Obama Administration’s hand in pending trade negotiations?
- On the global stage, the WTO Doha Round trade negotiations remain stuck, in large part because of the lack of enthusiasm within the United States for the deal that is emerging on the table. President Obama and the key voices in the U.S. Congress on this issue have reiterated their support for arriving at a deal. Whether this means they will exercise more flexibility or continue to insist on an overhaul remains to be seen. Meanwhile, though, the United States and the European Union have responded to the absence of progress on a Doha deal by embarking on a race to negotiate trade agreements with countries around the world. This is a race that the United States appears to be losing and there are increasing calls by U.S. business to level the playing field. Could this provide an impetus to reinvigorate the Doha Round?
- A number of issues remain pending or bear watching in US-Caribbean trade relations. The Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) provisions of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) preferences expire later this year. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced with the goal of improving trade with and investment in Haiti but they remain mired in discussion. And the US Congress continues to pursue an overhaul of its network of preference programs, the primary concern being to ensure that they work for those countries most in need of them. These programs have worked well for the beneficiaries and for those US companies that rely on them. Labor, though, wants to strengthen the conditions to which countries must conform in order to access them, while businesses want to make these conditionalities and rules more user-friendly. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is looking at relaxing restrictions on travel to Cuba. All of this activity provides motive and opportunity for the Caribbean to engage U.S. legislators and policymakers on the future of the region’s trade relations. Can they be re-oriented to reflect the reality of the region’s service-based economies?
- With respect to EU-Caribbean trade relations, signature and ratification of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which has replaced the post-colonial unilateral trading regime between the two regions was just the first tiny step of the many that will be required to ensure its successful implementation in the interests of the region. The evidence indicates that this process is not going well. The EU has reneged on its commitment to maintain some limited and temporary protections for the region’s rum producers and on the promise to co-fund a program to assist the industry to transition to operating in that liberalized market. The EU is also moving speedily to lower or remove the tariffs that have granted some protection to the region’s commodity exports. Meanwhile, the key consultative bodies required to be established by the EPA in order to address such issues have not been established. How is the Caribbean faring under its new trade regime with the EU? Can this mechanism also address OECD concerns about “tax havens” in the Caribbean?
- Jamaican music is putting to the test its trade relations within the Caribbean region and beyond. Jamaican entertainers are currently entitled under the terms of the Caribbean Single Market (CSM) to provide their services anywhere within the single market, but some are being denied that opportunity because of expressed concerns about their lyrics and the danger they purportedly present to public morals. Is this protectionism hiding behind excuses about public morals or do the banning countries have a case to make? Consider this in light of Italy’s recent refusal to host this year’s Rototom Sunsplash, Europe’s largest reggae festival, because of the expressed belief that it promotes the Rastafarian lifestyle and use of marijuana? Bearing in mind the EPA with the European Union (discussed above) and the CSM, can these public moral concerns trump the countries’ trade obligations, not to mention the artists’ right to free speech?
DevelopTradeLaw is back. Keep tuning in.