By Jabari Fraser
Expect “business as usual” for the Caribbean and Britain after Brexit: that was the key message from the British government in the shadow of Westminster’s Brexit deliberations in the first week of April.
The occasion was the annual Caribbean Council reception, held at the House of Lords.
Baroness [Rona] Fairhead, hosting the event, told the room of business people and investors in the Caribbean that “whatever the outcome of Brexit... business between the UK and the Caribbean can continue... without any additional barriers and tariffs”.
In her capacity as minister of state for trade and export promotion at the Department for International Trade (DIT), she said that trade deals replicating the European Partnership Agreements (EPAs) had been signed in the last two weeks with nine Cariforum countries, ensuring continuation of trade with a post-Brexit UK.
Baroness Fairhead said that the 2018 UK Customs Act gave trade preferences to countries that “matter” to UK trade in the world. She said that the UK was committed to “strengthen relationships” with the Caribbean and that “trade has to go both ways”.
It was the message that the room of UK investors in Caribbean construction, infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, travel and banking wanted to hear.
The Brexit shadow loomed over all the speeches at the reception. Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, referred to it as “the Westminster model which we love so much” in his feature address.
Jamaica’s “new story”
Mr Bartlett’s address focused on Jamaica’s development on tourism and other fronts. He said that the UK and Jamaica could not change the past. In reference to the fallout from last year’s Windrush scandal, the minister said that making “the next round better” was not about focusing on “yesterday’s story”, but working to “make a new story”. Mr Bartlett described the post-Windrush era as one of “new options and opportunities”.
He said that by the end of April, Jamaica expected 1.4 million visitors in stopover and cruise ship form, bringing in US$1bn in tourism for the winter season.
He said that Jamaica did not put all the emphasis on tourism, but also on “inclusive growth” in manufacturing, energy, IT, infrastructure, transportation and culture. Explaining what his government meant by inclusive growth, Mr Bartlett outlined efforts to professionalise the tourism industry, with certification and training from high school level to a graduate school for tourism at the University of the West Indies.
He explained that these were ways to “add value” and “create professionalism” in the tourism and associated industries. “That is what inclusive growth is all about,” he told his audience.
Mr Bartlett said that while it would overstate the case to describe recent growth in Jamaica as “stellar”, growth had been “consistent”. He said that in the last 17 quarters, unemployment had come down from 13% to 8.4%.
Even though the focus of this year’s reception was on Jamaica, Mr Bartlett spoke of the disruptions faced by all small countries in the region. Starting with what he called the “off-the-chart” 2017 hurricane season and the “painfully slow process” of recovery, he went on to list other factors affecting small countries.
This range of “mega” and “mild” disruptions included seismic events (Haiti), global terrorism (9/11 and its aftermath), slowdowns in global trade, pandemics, cybercrime and political disruption (Brexit).
The minister said that the new Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre, based at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, would seek to pull together Caribbean work on better resilience.
“We [small countries] need to build a capacity to deal with disruption,” Mr Bartlett said, outlining plans for the centre to garner data to help small countries become up-to-date on disruption, so that “the response can be more pointed and more exact”.
Pointing to the range of global disruptions that have an impact on small countries, Mr Bartlett said it was time for a “new relationship” between the Caribbean and the UK, to support the Caribbean in building capacity to recover and thrive following any kind of disruption.