| The Courier N°139 May- June 1993- Dossier: Factors and development - Country Reports: Trinidad and Tobago : Zimbabwe |
The south on a razor-edge
by Joseph ROCHER *
The developing countries, representing 70% of the contracting parties count for little in the GATT negotiations. This is because of their share of world trade (2.6% for Africa and 4% for Latin America in 1990, figures which also apply to the value of the goods traded) and because they all negotiate separately. There is very little in common between those like Chile and Mexico, which are able to develop their exports and are in the Cairns group i, those like India, which have applied strategies of national construction and now have to carry out resolute policies of economic liberalisation, and the poorest nations, which are net importers and have no power at all.
But, in one way or another, they are all directly concerned by what is on the agenda in Geneva.
Access to the market - i.e. customs duties, which are to be cut and consolidated, and non-tariff barriers - is at the heart of the negotiations. The Uruguay Round is aiming at a 33%, across-the-board cut in customs duties 2 and, since the developing countries tend to levy far higher customs duties than the developed ones, it is they who have to make the effort. Lower duties make access to the developing world easier and should in fact be of benefit to the industrialised countries above all.
But despite duties which often reach 150-200%, the South does not have a monopoly on high customs tariffs. The developed countries have their wellknown tariff peaks too - the USA's very heavy 50-56% on goods in sectors where American prices are not very competitive (ceramics, glass and textiles), for example, and Europe's 90% on tobacco and 300% of customs duty equivalent on some agricultural products. Americans and Europeans negotiated hard here. The original idea for some products was to apply the same tariff formula to all the countries where they were marketed, but the tendency now is towards give-andtake, with, say, the Americans opening their market more widely to imports of European textiles, ceramics and glass and the Europeans giving better access to America's electronics. The developing countries are being asked to bring their tariffs down to 50% or even 30% - so the negotiations are by no means over yet.
The developed countries also want to see the developing countries generally consolidate their customs tariffs. The point of consolidation is that a negotiated customs duty cannot be changed unilaterally without commercial or financial compensation and so it helps stabilise a given market. Unlike the developed countries, the developing countries have consolidated only a few of their customs duties on industrial products. The members of the Cairns group, which generally consolidated their customs tariffs to obtain wider access to Western markets, are of course not included here. Although consolidation may help trade relations between the countries of the South themselves, what are the long-term effects on countries which are unable to make serious projections ? The EEC's difficulties in suggesting a change to the zero-rated soya import consolidation fixed in 1967 is a good example of this.
Non-tariff barriers are another way of protecting the domestic market and, in 1991, there were still 250 of them, mainly in Japan and the newly industrialised countries of Asia. Quantitative restrictions and voluntary self-restraint agreements on exports are subjects on which the negotiations advance slowly. However, the Mexico-USA tuna war 3 gave a sudden twist to the debate on relations between trade and the environment, a topic over which negotiators had drawn a veil until then. When environmental considerations turn into market protection and lead to an exporting country being asked to apply the laws of the importing country, thereby breaching the golden rule of national sovereignty, the whole of GATT is up in arms!
Products from the tropics (3% of world trade, $70 billion in 1987) and from the exploitation of natural resources (fish, non-ferrous metals and minerals, forestry products etc, accounting for one fifth of world trade) are the subject of specific discussions in the group negotiating market access. The developed nations, and Europe particularly, would be willing to lift the barriers (plant health rules, the tax on so-called luxury products such as coffee and competing products such as rice, tobacco and palm oil) to imports of tropical products from the developing nations if the developing nations consented to a general consolidation of their tariffs in return.
Natural resources are vital to the South and the attitude of the countries of the North is: 'give us access to your natural resources and we will open our frontiers more widely to your products,' although this sort of agreement has never been possible between countries of the North. Canada, for example, refuses to open its fishing zone to European vessels, even in return for better access to the Community market.
Market access is not the only point left to settle before the first quarter of 1993. Textiles and clothing are still on the agenda. This dynamic sector, which expanded by some 101% between 1980 and 1989, as against only 53% for the goods trade as a whole, is regulated by the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA), which expired at the end of 1992 4. A priority of the Uruguay Round was to get the sector back into the multilateral agreement, but the delay with the negotiations led to the MFA being extended for another year. Before the developed countries do away with their restrictions on imports from the developing countries, they are waiting for the countries of Asia - whose dynamic approach is as much a threat to the textile industries in Africa as in the West - to lower their customs barriers too and stop producing counterfeit goods.
Another bone of contention is services 5. For many countries, this is the sector of the economy which is expanding fastest and creating the most jobs (32% of employment worldwide). It accounts for more than 61% of the GDP of the developed countries and 30-70% of the GDP of the developing countries. The framework agreement currently being negotiated must list the commitments to liberalise. This negotiation raises the problem of the autonomy of the developing countries in choosing their macroeconomic and development policies. If international operations and the setting up of businesses by multinationals can be treated as ordinary commercial transactions, then most developing countries, lacking solid rules and regulations to govern competition, are unlikely to be able to prevent monopolies.
Services - conditions not consequence, of development
Connected to services, which are closely linked to technical innovation and investment flows, are the quaintly-named TRIPs and TRIMs 6, the subject of some hard negotiating. TRIPS, trade-related intellectual property rights, pose the problem of access to technology. The developed nations have a virtual monopoly on the world's capital of technology and capacity to innovate, with the developing countries only accounting for 3% of all R&D spending. While businesses in the North lament the money lost to pirating and imitations ($60 billion) and demand protection for their licences and patents, the countries of the South complain about the high cost of transferring technology and the restrictions which companies force upon them. And businesses which maintain that better protection for intellectual property will bring about an increase in transfers of technology may well be greeted with the example of, say, Turkey, which does not protect its patents at all but is seeing its pharmaceuticals industry expand remarkably.
After TRIPS come TRIMs, trade related investment measures. With no resources of their own and no opportunity to borrow, the developing nations are looking more and more to foreign investors, but foreign investors prefer the developed countries or South East Asia. Businesses, the main ones to be concerned with direct investments, are attempting to get geographical redeployment under way and are calling for a relaxation of the national rules (on the repatriation of profits, the obligation to purchase inputs on the local market etc.) with which the developing countries try to control foreign investments. The 450 free zones around the world today are a response to the multinationals' demand for liberalisation. But the trend is to the detriment of national sovereignty, so how far can it go?
The negotiations seem to bear out the analyses which many economists have produced to the effect that GATT gets its inspiration from the theories of free trade, certainly, but that all economic machinery is conditioned or even determined by the strategies of the people involved, by their powers of negotiation and their ability to retaliate. Even the poorest get something out of trade, according to economic theory, but the poorest could well be cut out entirely in practice.
It was the German educationalist, Kurt Hahn, who fulminated against what he called 'spectatoritis'. He took the view that people should do things themselves rather than sitting back and waiting to be entertained by others. I don't know if Hahn ever made it to Trinidad and Tobago, but if he could go there today, he would doubtless approve of what he found. For whatever conclusions one reaches about the economic performance and prospects of this island country on the southern fringe of the Caribbean, there can be no disputing the immense creativity of its people in the cultural field.
Carnival is the event which many people associate, first and foremost, with Trinidad and Tobago, but even this spectacular occasion is only one element in a rich tapestry of creative activity which spans diverse forms of music, art and literature, and which is characterised, above all, by popular involvement.
Trinidad is, of course, not alone in staging a major celebration at Carnival time. The festival is held in the days leading up to Lent in many parts of the world that have a Catholic tradition. However, the Carnival which takes place in Port of Spain has developed into something which is quite unique. Widely recognised as one of the best of its kind, it represents the culmination of months of organisation and creative activity on the part of thousands of participants. Nowadays, it is regarded very much as a national festival, bringing together in celebration Trinidadians of all backgrounds and ethnic origins. Oddly enough, the two days devoted to it - the Monday before Lent or 'Jour Ouvert' (when Carnival officially starts) and Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) - are not official public holidays but there is a tacit recognition that 'normal' activities will be curtailed or suspended during this period.
Carnival is not just a single cultural event. Its best-known feature is the procession of dazzling costumes, floats and bands that take to the streets in a cornucopia of colour, light, sound and all-round revelry. But for many of those who take part in the procession, there is also the more serious business of performing and competing for one of the coveted titles in the Carnival hall of fame - Calypso Monarch, King and Queen of Carnival, Road March King, Band of the Year and the Panorama Award.
Some of the terminology associated with Carnival and its related activities can be a little confusing for outsiders. This year, just over a month before the big event, The Courier had the opportunity to visit a Calypso Tent and to see what went on in a Mas' Camp (where the costumes are made). Images of flapping canvas and tentpegs were soon dispelled as it became clear that the venues were buildings in Port of Spain. The Mas' Band one discovers, is in the business of providing a visual display of costumes, albeit with musical accompaniment, while the Pan Yard is the place (usually in the open air) where members of steel bands regularly gather to rehearse their repertoires.
Among all the different groups that contribute to the Carnival spectacle, the clubs that design and create the dazzling costumes must rank among the most important. There are up to 20 of these operating from their Mas' Camps in Port of Spain and theirs is an all-year round job. The first phase, which begins as soon as the previous Carnival has ended, is to come up with a theme for the costumes which the band will be displaying the following year. The next step is to design them, an intricate task calling for imaginative use of materials, particularly when ambitious headgear or bulky costumes are planned. There then follows the lengthy process of acquiring the necessary materials and putting the costumes together.
One does not need to have any particular qualifications to be a member of a Mas' Band. The designs of the various costumes produced by each club are it has been contaminated in the process). In Trinidad today, there is a debate taking place about whether calypso has lost its way, the main concern being over Iyrics which are crude or anodyne rather than satirical. Defenders of the music argue, however, that the latest songs are no less replete with hard-hitting messages about political and social concerns.
The origins of calypso, it is said, derive from 'an older West African tradition of social commentary, in which praise, blame or derision were conveyed in song or folk tales'. In Trinidad, it has always had anti-establishment undertones. It developed among the enslaved Africans in the 1 8th century and has at times been in the weeks leading up to Carnival, the various Calypso 'tents' provide an opportunity for the latest musical offerings to be presented to the public. And the singers, accompanied by a band and backing group, are not necessarily guaranteed an easy ride. Audiences are quite likely to show their disapproval if the performance is not to their liking. Performing calypso demands a great deal of showmanship, considerable musical talent and a feel for the beat (which seems to be come naturally to most Caribbeans). The pinnacle of success for the singer - and one which will guarantee that they become a household name in Trinidad - is to win the Carnival title of 'Calypso Monarch'.
openly displayed in their camps and are available for purchase by people who wish to take part with the band in question. The price, especially for elaborate costumes, may be high, but such is the Trinidadian love of Carnival that many people are prepared to devote considerable sums of money in order to 'look their best' in the procession.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Mas' Bands is the degree of commitment of those who design and make the costumes. They take a genuine pride in their work and are prepared to put in long hours at the camp in order to ensure that they are ready by the opening of Carnival.
The calypso musical form, which originated in Trinidad, has been exported to other parts of the Caribbean and is now widely known throughout the world (although some purists would argue that subject to official strictures. It seems normally to have been tolerated, however, because 'the leaders of society recognised the value of such satirical songs in which the ordinary person, given the privilege of unburdening his mind with the impact of his protest, was neutralised by the controlled context within which criticism was permissible'1.
Today's calypsonians would, like their predecessors, presumably prefer to regard their form of musical expression as the vehicle for a message rather than a 'safely-valve' for the establishment. It can be used to express disapproval of a policy, criticise or ridicule a political leader or simply to make a comment about the state of the world. And, of course it must be entertaining!
The other 'art form' which Trinidad has given to the world is the steel band. The historical roots of this type of music can be found in the African drum but the steel band as such is a surprisingly recent creation, dating back only to the 1930s. Few at that time could have predicted that the oil industry would provide the basis for a uniquely Trinidadian musical tradition and that something as prosaic as empty oil drums could be turned into instruments capable of producing sublime sounds. Necessity is supposed to be the mother of invention but we should nevertheless pay tribute to the inventiveness of those who, in the hard times of the 1930s, saw the possibility and exploited it. It was during the war years, when Carnival was suspended, that the steel band movement really took off.
When one considers the talent and creativity behind the making of pan music and the attractive harmonies of the end result, it is something of a surprise to discover that there was considerable discord among members of rival bands in the early days. This sometimes led to physical clashes - a circumstance which initially undermined the movement's 'respectability'.
Fortunately, this turned out to be a passing phase and, with the introduction of the Steelband Music Festival in the early 1950s (a project designed specifically to channel the aggressive instincts of some band members into a more fruitful form of competition), the sound of 'Pan' soon became synonymous with Trinidad and Tobago, gaining widespread popularity both at home and, increasingly, abroad.
Wayne Barclay is the President of Pan Trinbago, which is the umbrella organisation for the steel band movement in Trinidad and Tobago. He explained to The Courier how steel bands used to dominate Carnival in the days before mobile amplification gave the edge to brass instruments in the provision of music to accompany the Mas' Bands. The introduction of a special Carnival competition for steel bands (Panorama) had also meant the channelling of energies in a different direction. Many adherents of the steel band movement view this as a regressive step which has prevented the art form from developing, and Mr Barclay expressed his desire to see a move back towards 'playing mas' with the country's home-grown pan-music.
Although it is widely said that pan music has been in decline since the golden age of the 1 960s, the statistics would seem to suggest that it still has a healthy following. Today, the movement has some 10 000 musicians, grouped into bands of up to 120 players (remember that this is a country of only 1.25 million people). In the run up to Carnival, the sounds of the pan yards can be heard across Port of Spain and a closer inspection reveals young players being tutored by their more experienced elders in rigorous practice sessions which go on into the night. The Panorama competition generally attracts between 80 and 90 bands and Pan Trinbago continues to run its biannual festival of pan music, which nowadays has taken on an international flavour with the participation of groups from overseas.
The drums range from the basses, which still resemble oil drums although they are now specially made, through the medium-sized quadrophonics to the twelve-note tenor instruments which usually provide the melody. And the range of music which can be played is immense. There are two official categories; 'Ole Time' and 'Conventional'. The former is supposed to reflect where the steel band came from while the latter can be anything from a well-known modern pop song to an adaptation of a symphony by an 18th-century European composer.
Although Carnival and its associated activities are quite rightly regarded as national events, they have been moulded principally by African and European historical influences. The islands' Indian tradition makes its own distinct contribution to the cultural diversity of the country, principally through the National Council for Indian Culture. Hans Hanoomansingh, who is President of the NCIC, explained how the Council worked for the entire Indian community, the majority of whom are Hindu, but who also include significant Muslim and Christian minorities. He spoke of how attitudes to cultural questions had changed over the years. Whereas, in the past, the emphasis had been on encouraging the development of an indigenous culture (in the interests of national unity) it was now recognised that there was no real conflict and, as a result, the American 'melting pot' concept had been abandoned in favour of each community being given the opportunity to express itself.
The most important practical manifestation of this is the annual festival of Divali Nagar (Village of Lights) which was presented first by the NCIC in 1986 and which has since blossomed into the biggest East Indian cultural event in the Caribbean region. Although a Hindu celebration, with an important spiritual context for the followers of that religion, its emphasis, as its name implies, is on community and brotherhood, and its organisers lay considerable stress on reaching out to share the experience with fellow islanders from other ethnic or religious backgrounds. The festival encompasses a wide range of events - performances of Indian dance, dramatic and musical productions, displays of art, sculpture, jewellery and fashion, and opportunities to sample the best of Indian cuisine. The NCIC was recently granted a lease on an area of land at Chaguanas in central Trinidad, which is to be the permanent festival site.
It is clear from the foregoing that the people of Trinidad and Tobago know how to enjoy themselves. The multicultural setting in which they live seems to provide an ideal background for inventiveness and creativity on a large scale. For those who seek to determine the 'level of development' of a country, this is a factor which is seldom considered. But perhaps it should be, because it is clearly something which enhances the quality of life, and that presumably, is what development is all about in the final analysis.