Lisa Hanna's heart bleeds for wounded Venezuela

Monday, May 14, 2018

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Lisa Hanna, the foreign affairs and foreign trade spokesperson for the Opposition, went to bat, in her first sectoral presentation in the portfolio, for embattled Venezuela, questioning the Government's support for the wounded Central American nation-friend now under attack.

She also took up the mantle for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations, the present and former colonies of Europe now facing an uncertain future, with the critical Cotonou aid and trade pact set to expire in 2020.

Following are some edited excerpts of Hanna's Sectoral Presentation to Parliament on May 9, 2018:

Our preferential trade agreements under the PetroCaribe Fund graciously provided by the Government of Venezuela represents the largest loan with the best financial terms since Independence.

At one per cent interest rate, Venezuela provided Jamaica more than US$3 billion in loans.

The Venezuelan Government went even further, and accepted a US$1.5-billion settlement of our debt in July 2015, which not only reduced our debt to GDP ratio significantly, but also helped to improve our international financial standing in aggregate terms.

Jamaica's economic survival has been due in no small measure to the support and generosity of the Venezuelan people. From the insincere-sounding platitudes expressed during the visit of the then US Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) — which sounded more like fawning than independent policy — it has been painful to watch this Administration's reluctance to take the lead in Caricom toward a unified position on Venezuela.

We must never abandon our friends or be seen under any circumstance to do the bidding of others trying to enforce their dominion on another sovereign nation. The Administration's…defensive response on foreign policy matters, especially viewed through the prism of recent actions, or more appropriately non-action, is conspicuously cautious and leaves certain questions unanswered:

o Why has the GOJ been reluctant to take the lead in Caricom toward a unified position on Venezuela?

o Why has Jamaica abstained from the crucial vote in the United Nations General Assembly on a resolution regarding Jerusalem and why, despite questions raised in this House by the Opposition in 2017, has there been no explanation of the prime minister's official visit to Israel and his extension of an invitation to Israel's prime minister to visit Jamaica?

o Why does there seem to be inadequate engagement of the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) community under Jamaica's leadership towards the renegotiation of terms under the Cotonou Agreement which expires in 2020, even though we chair the ACP?

o Why, earlier this year, didn't the GOJ use the opportunity in the meeting with the then US secretary of state to extend the agenda beyond exclusive, bilateral US-Jamaica affairs to include regional and hemispheric issues of concern — including proposed changes to US immigration laws which could stymie our deportation co-operation that, if enacted, will have a major impact on our Diaspora?

o Why was there no public response, by the GOJ especially, to the discontinuation of programmes to build resilience to climate change, given last year's natural disaster events that affected the region?

Rather than presenting a proactive, operationalised foreign affairs and foreign trade policy that's courageous, strategic and principled, this Government is relying on an approach that could easily be named “The Doctrine of Doing Nothing”.

The most pressing issue on the international market is the uncertainty as to whether the World Trade Organisation rules, which have facilitated stability, will stand. Consistent with its Doctrine of Doing Nothing, the Government has indicated a wait and see monitoring approach.

…The US has announced trade sanctions and tariffs; Britain has decided to withdraw from the European Union and to reengage the Commonwealth — the prime minister has said nothing on these game changers in international trade. Anyone who doesn't take seriously President Donald Trump or the imminent danger some of his policies can bring to Jamaica, does so at their peril.

We've lived in a world where global growth has been facilitated by free trade. However, these established rules can now be changed immediately by Twitter. A world trade war is not in Jamaica's interest.

Reclaiming our stature

There are two urgent issues currently before us:

o The impending expiry of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020 without adequate engagement up to now by the ACP. This is acutely discomforting because currently, Jamaica is chair of the ACP. Under Jamaica's leadership, nothing is being done to protect the interests of the wider ACP community; the Caribbean region; or Jamaica's cultural, political and economic interests.

o The radical changes taking place in the architecture of the European Union with the impending exit of Britain from the EU (Brexit), which creates a vacuum for the ACP.

The Cotonou Agreement signed in 2008 provides a comprehensive framework of cooperation between 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union. Its main tenets promote development, as well as political and importantly economic/trade co-operation. It has been adapted to new challenges of climate change, food security, regional Integration, state fragility and aid effectiveness.

It's easy to imagine Britain and the rest of the EU being distracted by Brexit negotiations and implementation. In this environment it could become increasingly difficult for the ACP to be heard, especially if discussions and consultations are not ramped up immediately. Jamaica must act now!

Sadly, the Government's Doctrine of Doing Nothing foreign policy strategy has weakened our engagement and international respect built through a history of distinguished Jamaican leadership through PJ Patterson, Hugh Shearer, KD Knight and Anthony Hylton who held the responsibilities for the trade dossiers at the ACP.

It is clear to us that Jamaica's traditional stature on the world stage must be reclaimed. We must NOT be left behind in the changing global environment. We must be willing and able to provide visionary leadership to our Caribbean and ACP colleagues.

Foreign affairs and foreign trade must promote growth

An objective assessment of the Jamaican economy identifies our dependency on external sources:

o Remittances are dependent on overseas economies

o Tourism is dependent on foreign travellers

o Bauxite is dependent on external demand

o BPO sector is dependent on external demand

o The price of oil is dependent on world demand.

o Commodity prices aredependent on world demand.

We understood that, in small, open economies like Jamaica, strategic foreign policy is inextricably linked to the service of our economic development. The same applies in today's changing geopolitical landscape.

The success of any national development policy or strategy will require being proactive, taking risks to carve out globally competitive niche markets, and forging new relationships in international trade while leveraging/nurturing longstanding ones.

Economic growth has eluded us, notwithstanding the fact that companies on the Jamaica Stock Exchange are showing record profits. One bank is earning approximately US$160 million per annum and hotels are booked to capacity. However, the ordinary Jamaican is still having difficulty making ends meet. All the banks and insurance companies are foreign-owned, most hotels are offshore-owned.

Time's up for this Government and their Doctrine of Doing Nothing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is too silent on critical international issues. Public awareness of Jamaica's world view is at an all-time low. Time to focus on Jamaica's interest. Time to use foreign affairs and foreign trade to promote domestic economic growth. NOW!

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