Caribbean Leaders Urge Us To Renew Trade Preferences
Three Caribbean leaders last week urged US President George W. Bush to renew Washington's trade preference scheme for exports from Caribbean countries before it expires on 30 September. Bahamian Prime Minister Huber Ingraham, who currently holds the chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), David Thompson of Barbados, and Dean Barrow of Belize stressed the importance of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) in talks with Bush in Washington. They are concerned that the withdrawal of trade preferences could have drastic effects on their respective economies. The CBI provides gives most goods from19 different Caribbean basin economies duty-free access to the US market. President Bush, who supports renewing the trade preference scheme, had invited the leaders to Washington for the meeting. "It was important for these leaders to know that we believe a good, strong, healthy, vibrant neighborhood is in the interest of the United States," he told the Associated Press. The CBI has existed since 1983, but the current version is largely based on the Caribbean Basin Trade Preference Act (CBTPA), which was enacted in 2000. The CBTPA requires that countries and dependent territories "have implemented or are making substantial progress toward implementing certain customs procedures based on those contained in the NAFTA." The CBTPA stipulates that preferences will be erased once free trade agreements, such as the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) are signed. However, the FTAA talks have broken down completely, with no serious talks since 2005. With the FTAA lying dormant, Caribbean countries are growing increasingly concerned about securing their access to the US market. Some US lawmakers have started arguing that the trade preference scheme should be reformed, citing growing competition between US ethanol producers and international ethanol producers who have set up shop in the Caribbean to benefit from the access. Uncertainty about tariff regimes can often be enough to make businesses change purchasing decisions. In light of more pressing issues, including the ongoing discussions on the farm bill, Congress is not likely to look at the Caribbean trade preferences until later in the year. ICTSD reporting; "Bush discusses tourism with leaders of three English-speaking Caribbean countries", AP, 20 March 2008. "Bahamas PM and US President Bush meet in bilateral talks,"BANK FOR INTERNATIONAL SETTLEMENTS, 26 March 2008 "Caribbean Leaders Urge For CBI Extension In Bush Meeting", CARIB WORLD NEWS, 21 March 2008.