"A policy of splendid isolation". This is how my revered, and recently departed, high school history teacher Mr. Rudy "Pharoah" Piggott, used to describe Britain's politics and general attitude towards Europe. The UK, and more specifically, England, is often viewed as being in Europe, but not of Europe. This isolationist policy may be rooted in geography, England is after all, an island and separated from the continent by a not inconsiderable body of water. But having entered the EU in 1973, the UK for more than 40 years, committed itself politically, economically and may I say morally, to the ideals of the European Union.
I'm quite certain that the UK will remain committed to Europe in many ways, in most ways in fact. But now that its set to leave the EU, through the so called Brexit in 2019, many questions are being raised. Questions such as the UK's future trade, security, free movement of people and other relationships with the EU are being discussed at length in Brussels and Westminster. But Brexit also raises question about the relationship between the EU and another group of countries. Namely the english-speaking Caribbean island nations which represent the majority of the 15 member CARIFORUM group. The majority of these nations were former colonies of the UK and remain Commonwealth members today.
Most of the 'old world colonial powers' France, England, Spain, and the Netherlands, have former colonies in the Caribbean. In centuries past, the Caribbean provided the coerced labour and mainly agricultural raw materials which were sent back to Europe. As these small nations attained independence from their former colonial masters, they became open to the hazards of international free market economics. In part, to protect their small and often fragile economies, they came together in what is known as the CARIFORUM group. Under this platform, these nations have greater weight in international trade negotiations with the EU. Indeed the EU has a strong history of helping to support these rising economies. Practically, this support comes via what is known as the EPA or Economic Partnership Agreement. It is unsurprising, that a strong relationship exists between the people of the Caribbean and Europe. Many persons born in France can trace their roots to Martinique or Guadeloupe. These french language islands, unlike many of the other former colonies, have not become fully independent states or republics. They instead, maintain a large degree of independence as Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT's). A similarly strong link exists between the people of the english speaking islands e.g. Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, St.Lucia and the UK. As also exists for the dutch language nations of Aruba, St.Maarten, Suriname with Holland and for Cuba and Dominican Republic with Spain.
Under the EU - CARIFORUM EPA, bilateral trade between the regions is encouraged through the implementation of preferential tariffs, removal of quotas and other instruments designed to stimulate trade, investment and overall economic development. Neither is the EPA a one-sided agreement. CARIFORUM nations are expected to remove the tariffs on imports from the EU into the Caribbean as well. Though the timeline for their removal is longer. Now that Brexit is on the horizon, the former UK colonies find that their 'Godmother' is leaving the EU side of the negotiating table. This does not mean that the english speaking member countries of CARIFORUM will now have less power in negotitations with the EU. But there is no doubt that these islands had a much closer relationship with the UK than with the rest of Europe. There is a reason why its Virgin Atlantic which has daily scheduled flights to Barbados and not Air France.
Traditionally, when these nations spoke of trading with Europe, it was really about trading with the UK; the level of trade with continental Europe is much less. Through the EPA, virtually the ENTIRE EU region is open to CARIFORUM nations. But for reasons related to history, convenience, language, comfort etc trade tends to flow towards those European nations with whom the ties were strongest. Not much unlike in colonial times. With Brexit, some persons in the english speaking Caribbean believe that it is time to refocus efforts on increasing trade with the UK itself. I am not knocking nor discouraging this. Any attempts to stimulate increased trade and investment for the Region with any country is to be lauded and commended and it will be easier to further develop economic relations with the UK. But as any wise investor knows, the best opportunities for future profit can often be found in a bear market. As the UK leaves the EU, this is the opportunity for CARIFORUM nations to extend their hand towards continental Europe. Not for a handout, but to forge stronger economic relationships with the rest of the EU by introducing what CARIFORUM has to offer. This offering includes but is not limited to products such as agriculture, energy, raw materials, manufacturing and services industries which in turn is not limited to simply tourism (though tourism
must be encouraged), but encompasses ICT, advertising & communication, film, music, animation...... the list goes on. Personally, I will be sad to see the UK leave the EU and I hope that it won't become more complicated to go watch the West Indies cricket team play at the Oval in London. But even without the UK, there will still be 27 EU member nations, the largest free trading bloc in the world. Relatively few of the European powers had established colonies in India. Yet today, India can boast of having successfully exported its ICT services sector to almost every country in the EU.
This is a model, which I believe CARIFORUM nations should strive to emulate. Recently a friend told me that he was considering to send his son to attend university in the UK, but was wary of the cost. It had never occurred to him that his son could attend university in Brussels or elsewhere in Belgium for instance. Many of the courses are taught in English and the cost of tuition and housing is very likely to be much lower than in the UK. But again, the ties that bind, run deep. With some CARIFORUM countries now no longer requiring visa to visit countries in the Schengen Area, persons from these nations should be encouraged to visit mainland Europe in greater numbers. I fondly recall a remark by former Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship CEO, Ms. Lisandra Rickards, who said that its time for Caribbean firms to start setting up headquarters and offices in Europe. Brexit, may mean that the UK is leaving the EU party early. But it does not mean that CARIFORUM nations need to leave with her. Instead it may be time for them to learn a few new moves and head out onto the dance floor.