Repositioning Guyana Editorial
Stabroek News
October 17, 2001

Guyana, of course, will not, cannot move! What is so desperately necessary is that there should be a movement of ideas, a rethinking about Guyana's position in the world and especially in the international economy.

The need for new ideas is not just a Guyana need, it is region-wide. Dr Richard Bernal, the new Principal Technical Adviser of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM), who has been visiting, is perhaps the most searching and profound of the analysts who have written about the need to revitalise regional foreign policy with new ideas. Bernal has noted that:

"Part of the crisis of the Caribbean is intellectual. Too many academics and policymakers are caught in a time warp using old paradigms and traditional policies to deal with difficult new problems in a changed reality. This attempt is doomed to fail, and the theology of orthodoxy must be challenged. It is not the Washington consensus which is the problem, it is the Caribbean consensus. New situations require new solutions, which can only be derived from new ideas".

Hitherto the CRNM has been primarily concerned, as Bernal pointed out at his press conference, with the preparation of technical briefs to support agreed policy position. This will no longer be the case; policy itself is in flux. The goal posts have been moved to new positions or removed altogether!

In an earlier phase it was Guyana more than any other regional state which had formulated the new ideas and conceived the new institutions. It was Guyana which has demonstrated the relevance of non-alignment to the security of small states. And it was Guyana which had founded the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of countries. That is why the charter of the Group is the Georgetown Agreement. It was to prove a highly successful diplomatic initiative as the ACP grouping, now numbering over 70, provided a formidable and cohesive basis for the negotiations with the European Union towards preserving in particular preferential markets in Europe.

Now the role of the African states in the ACP is in doubt and fast eroding.

This situation has come about for a number a reasons. First, nearly all the ACP African States are Least Developed Countries (LDCs). As is well known the European Union last year offered all LDCs duty free access for all their export products, Everything But Arms (EBA). Although not as really worthwhile as it appears, the EBA has nevertheless proved to be attractive to the LDCs. The Caricom States with their comparatively higher per capita incomes are not LDCs. One consequence is that the EBA puts Caricom States and in particular Guyana at a major disadvantage and is therefore a strong divisive factor in the ACP.

Second, there is a strong feeling of separate identity sweeping over Africa which is clearly influencing the African ACP States.

The sense of separate identity and separate destiny is reflected in the recent decision at the Lusaka meeting in July to transform the Organisation of African Unity into the African Union with its own continent-wide Development Plan. Moreover, African ministers have asserted that African states will take different positions to other developing countries at the Ministerial Conference of the WTO next month in Qatar.

Third, the European Union has been insisting that the essential commodity protocols including the Sugar Protocol (which is vital to Guyana) cannot be preserved except through Regional Agreements, the so called Regional Economic Partnership Agreements (REPAs). (This EU contention is far from certain and should be challenged) Under these proposals each region or indeed sub-region would have separately negotiated agreements with the European Union. But such region-specific agreements are likely to destroy the ACP which is essentially inter-regional. However,it will be difficult to resist this EU proposal as it is reported that the African states favour it.

Caricom diplomacy has for long been pursued on the basis of African solidarity. In the future there may well be little basis for such an assumption. Moreover, the Caricom States including Guyana acted unwisely when they chose to be represented at low levels at the recent World Conference on Racism in Durban to which the African States attached the highest importance.

Such emerging diplomatic vulnerability is one which must be an urgent concern of Caricom Foreign Ministers so that clear instructions could be given to the CRNM.

At the same time the search for new ideas to inform the negotiations of the REPA must begin at once as the REPA now seems inevitable. The inevitability also flows from the fact that Caricom (including Guyana) has committed itself to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (the FTAA). It would appear to be easier to secure special terms for the small states of the Caribbean within the FTAA if the Caricom region is already seen to be involved in a region specific agreement with the European Union which takes account of smallness and vulnerability. Such negotiations will tax all the intellectual resources of the Caribbean.

In the context of the FTAA, the problems of the Caricom States have been entrusted to a Consultative Committee on Smaller Economies which includes within its ambit the Central American States whose economies and populations are by no means small as compared with the small island and other states of Caricom. The Central American States differ in several fundamental ways including ethnic composition and institutional structure and the absence of a history of the plantation economy which has so profoundly shaped the politics of Caricom States. Moreover, several of the Central American States have demonstrated hostility to the predicaments of Caricom Small States, especially in the matter of access of Caricom bananas to the European Union. At the moment it is. Guatemala which is holding up WTO approval of the COTONOU Agreement which embodies the agreements reached with the EU after years of negotiations. Fortunately, Dr Bernal is the recognised expert on the problems of small economies within the FTAA.

The Consultative Committee on Smaller Economies is not a negotiating group. It is essentially fact-finding with the objective of making recommendations which could preserve the vital interests of the smaller states within the FTAA. It is said to be mandatory, for whatever that is worth, for such recommendations to be taken into the negotiations of the subject area committees which after preparatory and drafting phases are about to begin the hard negotiations which will produce the text of the FTAA treaty.

Caricom thus needs a new diplomatic base. David Jessop writing in his Sunday Stabroek column has suggested that this may be the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) "which will defend a separate identity". However, the ACS is too heterogeneous in membership including as it does large states such as Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico, some of the Central American States with Caribbean coastlines, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, the latter state having been excluded from the FTAA. Cuban exclusion would therefore pose immense difficulties for the ACS within the negotiating structure of the FTAA.

The Caribbean will need a powerful friend at court who could ensure that the concerns of the Caribbean are given consideration within each negotiating forum. Is it not possible that this role may be played by Brazil whose diplomacy has always been responsive to the black Caribbean?

If a satisfactory Regional Agreement is concluded with the European Union, would not the EU as an increasingly powerful international sector with a rapidly growing interest in Latin America and the Caribbean have a vested interest in seeing that the integrity of such regional arrangements are preserved within the FTAA grouping. The two sets of negotiations with the EU and in the FTAA are inescapably linked.

These are all ideas about diplomatic options which might be explored.

The momentum of the independence movements in the English-peaking caribbean ensured that in the aftermath of Independence, the newly sovereign states made positive and creative responses to the world in which they found themselves. Caribbean creativity is surely still capable of new diplomatic responses to our much changed world.