Published On: Fri, Nov 11th, 2016

Building bridges for better Caribbean business in Trump era

castries2CASTRIES - The Caribbean and Latin America are lapping-up the results of the most controversial US presidential election ever, which served-up what the world had been told was the most tasteless or distasteful candidate as the one Americans liked most. But long before his surprise election victory, Brazil, Cuba and Mexico had started taking steps to consolidate their business, trade, economic, cultural and political ties with their closest neighbours in the Wider Caribbean area.

It’s still too early to say what effect the election of Donald Trump as the next US president will have on America’s relations with its neighbours, from borderline Mexico to Cuba, or from Jamaica to Guyana in the English-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) region.

Mexicans are scared stiff that a President Trump will build that promised wall, engage in mass expulsion of illegal Mexicans across the border and stop Mexicans in the US from sending money home (to force Mexico to pay for his wall).

During the closing hours of the campaign, Trump also promised a similar hard line against Ford and other American motor companies that had relocated their production lines in Mexico at the cost of US jobs. He said he would impose stiff Customs and other taxes on such vehicles entering the USA from Mexico.

Mexico’s dilemma is that it needs its citizens in the US.

Mexicans comprise 17% of the total US population and approximately 80% of Mexico’s exports go across the border to the US. Mexico also has more than five million citizens living in the USA without papers, comprising about half of all undocumented migrants there.

Mexicans in the USA – legal and illegal -- are important to their country’s foreign exchange earnings, sending home more than US$20 billion in remittances wired from America up to September 2016.

Mexicans were so wary of a Trump victory that during the final days of the campaign, the peso upped and dropped in value like a yo-yo, according to Trump’s polled chances – and it actually dropped 13% Wednesday morning after Trump secured his victory.

But the Mexican government isn’t waiting until Trump takes office on January 20 to find out what he’ll do and what will happen. It’s already bracing itself – and assuring Mexicans, their neighbours and the world that it’s ready for any fallout.

Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade and Bank of Mexico Governor Agustin Carstens, addressed the decline in the value of the peso Wednesday, following Trump’s election hours earlier and said Mexico is ready for any eventuality.

Meade said, “The result of the election in the USA does not imply an immediate impact on the regulatory framework that regulates trade in goods and services, nor in financial flows.”

“Additionally,” he added, “Mexico is in a position of strength to face the new environment.”

According to the finance minister, Mexico “enjoys great macro-economic stability” and the reforms implemented by President Enrique Pena Nieto “will protect the country against any economic turmoil” resulting from Trump’s election.

Central Bank Governor Carstens took a similar line, adding that Mexico also has “a privileged position with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that will permit Mexico to cope with any future crisis.”

Trump has also said nothing either about his position on US trade ties with Brazil, or his plans for the future of recent openings for more US trade with Cuba under the outgoing Obama administration.

With Caribbean economies still reeling under pressure from domestic and external difficulties and the international financial agencies predicting growth rates that will still be too low to address regional unemployment, the likes of Brazil, Cuba and Mexico have been looking beyond their borders and embracing new initiatives closer to home.

The new November neighbourly comes as Latin American nations seek new South-South business and investment arrangements, forced by global and regional political and economic climate changes to search harder for ways and means of finding common opportunities to build bridges to do better business.

Cuba’s opening-up to US investment, Brazil’s need to shore-up its declining reserves and Mexico’s growing interest in attracting more Caribbean business to its shores, have combined to result in each nation this month arranging major trade, investment and entrepreneurial functions aimed at boosting closer Caribbean-Latin American business and trade investment and cooperation.

A Brazilian business pivot to the smaller English-speaking Eastern Caribbean islands is currently under way, just as Cuba and Mexico are also looking to CARICOM, OECS and the other states in the Wider Caribbean region.

Cuba hosted the 34th Havana International Trade Fair from October 31 to November 4, which was attended by delegations from all six OECS member-states (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines).

The islands’ participation in the FIHAV 2016 had been arranged by the OECS Commission, which sought to introduce the regional business representatives not only to the Cuban market, but also to entities from over 75 other countries that also attended the Havana event.

Monday’s upcoming (November 14) Brazil-OECS Business Forum, organized by the Brazilian Embassy in Saint Lucia with support from the government’s leading investment agency Invest Saint Lucia (ISL) and the OECS Commission, will start before and run alongside a similar mission mounted by Mexico, starting next week.

The Embassy of Mexico to the Eastern Caribbean States, also located here, last month announced that the 2016 Cancun Forum entitled “Creating Synergies to Strengthen the Competitiveness of the Greater Caribbean” will take place November 16 to 18.

But the Mexican Forum will not be held within the Caribbean island chain. Instead, it will take place at the Peninsula Convention Center in Cancun.

The Mexican embassy says it is “the most important business forum in the Greater Caribbean” and “is designed to foster regional economic development and competitiveness by increasing trade and investment flows.”

But the Brazilian Entrepreneurial Mission, which will start arriving here this weekend from several Brazilian Federal states and includes at least one Federal parliamentarian with business responsibilities, is seeking to attract Brazilian businesses, not only to Saint Lucia but also to all six OECS island-states.

The Brazilian entrepreneurs are coming from Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, Goiás and Pará -- and their interests range from tourism and construction to alternative energy, water harvesting and desalination, as well as services.

While in Saint Lucia, the Brazilians will next week meet with the OECS Business Council, while engaging their Saint Lucian counterparts in discussions on joint investment and other forms of business cooperation.

Yet the Brazilians will not only remain ensconced in hotels and business centres in the island’s busy north zone. They will also visit award-winning tourism attractions in the island’s west coast tourism capital, Soufriere, home of the island’s prized UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site twin-peak mountains called The Pitons National Landmark.

In Soufriere, the Brazilians will also see the international award-winning Jade Mountain, Anse Chastanet and Ladera Resorts, which have won multiple world and Caribbean tourism awards.

The Brazilian business delegation will also visit the west coast village of Canaries, where resident CEO of the British Caribbean Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) Joseph Kennedy is behind construction of the new Belvedere hotel resort.

By the time the Greater Caribbean investors start their business talks in Cancun, the Brazilians in Saint Lucia will have participated in the planned November 14 Business Forum in Saint Lucia, at which three of the island’s Cabinet ministers will speak, along with ISL and OECS officials, about ‘Doing and How to Do Business’ with Saint Lucia and the OECS.

Saint Lucian businesses that participated in Cuba’s FIHAV 2016 have also been invited to the November 11-17 Brazilian-OECS Business Forum in Castries.

And by the time the November 16-18 Cancun Forum is over, the region should have a better understanding of why the new regime change in Washington will require even stronger efforts to build, renew and strengthen South-South business ties in the Trump era. (The Diplomatic Courier)

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