STRANDED IN ISOLATION

We have been through this many times before. Curaçao is and remains painfully isolated from the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere. Whilst the majority of our ties are with this region, we don’t have formal reciprocal bilateral economic relations with it. This is especially true for the U.S. which is by far our most important trade partner. We rely exclusively on unilateral preferences, the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the Overseas Countries and Territories (LGO) for exports to the U.S. and the E.U. respectively.

Most developing countries however, including our neighbors, have ceased to only rely on one-sided preferential programs because they have proven to contain too many complications, quotas and often exclude products which are of export interest to the beneficiaries. And these one-way programs are at the mercy of the donors as we have seen with the LGO. No serious trade policy can be based on LGO and CBI. This premise is proven by our dismal export figures and yet we persist in this erroneous thinking. We are in desperate need for mature and reciprocal relationships with the world. Our global and regional position is weak, isolated and frankly unsustainable. Simply put, we are missing out on opportunities -and not just trade- with our most important neighbors. For example, on December 16, 2016 President Barack Obama signed into Public Law the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 (CSEA) which calls for a new long-term strategy to strengthen ties between the U.S. and the Caribbean especially in the areas of security, trade, economic development, energy, education and diaspora engagement. This ambitious program however is meant for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic. Moreover this is also the case for the U.S.-Caribbean Security Initiative which started in 2010 and is expected to run until 2018. Did our Government lobby in the U.S. to be included? I doubt it. What I do know for certain is that our private sector basically never even heard about CSEA. Another missed opportunity.

It is obvious that the strategic importance of the Caribbean region and Curaçao for the U.S. has grown due to a substantial increase of Chinese investments and interest in the region. The U.S. must also be aware that its policies that are responsible for the withdrawal of U.S. correspondent banks from the Caribbean can play into the hands of China that is eager to fill the void and have its currency, the RMB, play a central role in this region instead of the U.S. Dollar. This will mean more Chinese might. Going back to the crux of the matter, it is vital to work proactively with the U.S. and other Caribbean nations. Curaçao is more important than it might seem, at first glance, because of the quiet but strategically important security relationship it already has with the U.S..The dynamics of more Chinese interest in Curaçao is a chance to build on our historic relationship, economically, culturally and otherwise with the U.S.. We should not choose between the Chinese and the U.S.. Nobody expects us to do that. However we have to navigate wisely. But we have to start navigating and not remain stranded in isolation.

 

Author: alexdavidrosaria

Alex Rosaria is from Curaçao. He has a MBA from University of Iowa. He was Member of Parliament, Minister of Economic Affairs, State Secretary of Finance and United Nations Development Programme Officer in Africa and Central America. He is an independent consultant active in Asia and the Pacific.

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