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by means of Sir Ron Sanders
On October 12, more than a dozen representatives in the United States Congress sent a letter to United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai requesting immediate attention to what they describe as “the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party in both Latin America and the United States.” The Caribbean”. trade and economic development”.
U.S. Congressmen have come to this realization years after Caribbean representatives in Washington — including myself — told successive US administrations and Congress that the US had been absent for nearly two decades as a meaningful contributor to Caribbean development.
The vacuum that the US left has been filled by the People’s Republic of China, and it would be unreasonable for the US administration or Congress to expect Caribbean countries to delay or delay their urgent development needs pending US renewed focus on the region.
Furthermore, the terms of China’s loans to many Caribbean countries have been much more favorable, even than World Bank and IMF loans to low- and lower-middle-income countries, and China does not use per capita income as a criterion to disqualify high-income, but rather is vulnerable. and vulnerable. underdeveloped Caribbean countries, from eligibility for loans and grants.
Congressional figures and US government policymakers should take this reality into account when they say, as to the US Trade Representative, “Economic prosperity and sound trade relations are declining and becoming a matter of national security.”
Caribbean countries do not view the loans and other economic arrangements they have with China as a threat to US national security, and no member state of CARICOM has implemented policies or programs that affect US national security.
Indeed, the CARICOM countries have remained faithful to importing goods and services from the US, even though US aid and investment in the sub-region has steadily declined.
Here are a few facts that the 13 members of Congress who signed the October 12 letter appear to be unaware of. First, with the exception of Haiti (which is a special case for the US), the Caribbean Community’s 14-nation independent states have been at the bottom of US official development assistance for decades.
In 2019, for example, total US foreign aid worldwide was $47 billion, of which all CARICOM countries received $338 million or 0.7 percent. For emphasis, that’s less than 1 percent of the global total. Haiti only received US$268 million of that US$338 million was delivered to all 14 CARICOM states, while the other 13 would share only $70 million. For nine of the 13 countries, the amount provided was not $1 million.
In terms of trade, the US remained the dominant trading partner of the CARICOM states, with a trade surplus of $6.5 billion. So while it is a fact that trade between Caribbean countries and China has increased in recent years, no trade in goods with the US has been displaced, and certainly no trade in services. And in terms of foreign aid to the region, if China now supplies more to the Caribbean than the US, then that should hardly be a US complaint.
One of the references to China is that its representatives use sharp practices when negotiating contracts with Caribbean countries, which could lead to confiscation of vital infrastructure if loan repayment defaults occur.
These references suggest that representatives of Caribbean countries lack the ability to negotiate contracts that are in their best interests — a claim most CARICOM governments would reject.
It also suggests that CARICOM countries have not encountered similar practices from other countries that have resulted in unequal contracts – the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union collectively and each CARICOM country individually is an example of this.
What US policymakers should consider undeniable is that China gives more scholarships to Caribbean students to improve their knowledge and capacity than the US.
In fact, the US is stripping Caribbean doctors, nurses and teachers — who have been trained at great expense by Caribbean taxpayers. If the US continues this practice, they will ultimately only have themselves to blame if the Caribbean professionals and influencers of the future know China better than the US.
Certainly, the 13 congressmen writing to the USTR were more concerned about China’s relationship with the larger countries of Latin America than they were about the Caribbean. The Caribbean is mostly a forgotten appendage of Latin America among most US policy influencers, including the think tanks. It is that concern about the loss of trade advantages and impact on Latin American markets that made them say, “We believe that maintaining strong relationships with our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere is the top priority for the US.
Soon, China will be significantly positioned to completely dominate the Western Hemisphere economy, as China is already the main trading partner for virtually all of Asia, Oceania, Eastern Europe, Africa and, as mentioned, most of South America.
If China comes to dominate the Western Hemisphere economy, it will be due to a long period of US neglect and the slow process of recognizing the need for the US to re-engage Latin America and the Caribbean in genuine cooperation and not unilateral strategies that are long on words, but short on allocation and delivery of funds.
In any case, Latin American and Caribbean countries, concerned about improving their economies and improving the social and economic conditions of their peoples, do not endorse any rivalry between China and the US in their region and hemisphere. They would all declare that there is ample scope for economic and other forms of mutually beneficial cooperation with both China and the US.
The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Sir Ron Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at the University of Toronto’s Massey College. The opinions expressed are entirely his own. Reactions and previous comments: www.sirronaldsanders.com