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close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderJamaica
View the documentHarnessing the winds of change
View the documentP.J. Patterson - The new man at the helm
View the documentInterview with Senator David Coore, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
View the documentHospitality is big business - Jamaica's tourist sector
View the documentInterview with Bruce Gokling Chairman of the Jamaica Labour Party
View the documentDancing to a Jamaican tune
View the documentProfile
View the documentCooperation with the European Community

Interview with Senator David Coore, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade

Talks about his country's external relations policies

Keen to deliver

Senator David Coore has had a long and distinguished career spanning politics and the legal profession since he began private practice in Jamaica in 1952. He was elected to the pre-independence Legislative Council in 1959 and served as a member of the special committee that drafted the country's Constitution in 1962. Entering the House of Representatives in 1967, he went on to become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, posts which he held for six years. This was followed by a period working for the Inter-American Development Bank with postings to the Dominican Republic, Barbados and the United States.

The election of the People's National Party Government in 1989 saw David Coore return to ministerial office. He was appointed a Senator and given the job of looking after his country's foreign and trade relations. He is also leader of government business in the upper house.

In this interview Senator Coore speaks to The Courier about a range of trade and foreign policy issues. He also describes, in frank terms, the policy of the Jamaican Government regarding the two troubled countries which are its nearest neighbours-Haiti and Cuba.

· Senator Coore. How would you characterise the current relationship between Jamaica and the European Community ?

-It is very good. Aside from our links under the Lomonvention, we have relations with all of the countries of Western Europe and have resident ambassadors in Brussels, London, Bonn and Geneva. We have a fair amount of trade with Europe-for historical reasons, mostly with the UK. On the aid side, there are substantial programmes, notably with Germany and Italy, but also with France and, of course, the UK. And we are trying in particular to develop European tourism. This is a critical sector of our economy and is one of the main focuses of our activity in Europe. I should say that it has been progressing quite well in recent years but we are hoping to see it expand still further. To some extent, however, growth in this area is dependent on us being able to increase the number of direct air links.

In general terms, therefore, we regard the EC as a very important area for trade, investment and tourism, in addition of course, to the programmes that we have under the Lomonvention.

I should also say that we have traditionally had good links with the countries of Eastern Europe through our embassy in Moscow. We had an important trading relationship with the former Soviet Union involving the exchange of bauxite and alumina for cash as well as Lada cars. As you can well understand, that arrangement is in suspense at the moment. The problem is that the bauxite was going to the Ukraine while the cars came from Russia. This was obviously workable while they were both parts of the Soviet Union but things are different now and we are still working to find a new relationship with these countries.

· There has been a lot of fairly heated discussion recently about bananas, and in particular about access to EC markets. The Community appears to have arrived at a formula which seeks to strike a balance between the various producers involved- in the EC itself, in the so-called 'dollar zone' and in the ACP countries including Jamaica which have traditionally enjoyed preferential access. What is your view of the proposal ?

-We are not totally happy with it. We think that it has certain deficiencies but we recognise that, given the sharp divisions which exist in Europe over the banana protocol, it is probably the best that could be achieved to protect our position under the Lomonvention.

Of course, it is all related to the GATT and we can't be certain that the new tarification proposal will actually achieve the same results as the previous regime involving specific licensing and quotas. We will just have to wait and see how it works out in practice.

We also recognise that it is going to take some time for the proposal to be implemented. Consequently, we have been very keen to ensure that interim measures were put in place and this has now happened in that the status quo has been maintained until July.

I should say that we preferred the original Commission proposal which, we thought, met our concerns to a greater extent. The current proposal appears to meet some of our concerns but, as I say, a lot will depend on how it actually operates in practice.

· What about the trading position of sugar, which is also an important export product for Jamaica ?

-Sugar is in a different position. The quota is not really affected by the single market. What it is affected by is the modification that is taking place in the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Community. Under the CAP, beet sugar enjoys a fairly healthy subsidy and since the price of beet sugar is used as a reference price for our own cane sugar, the position has been reasonably satisfactory for us. But the beet sugar price is under continuous siege-because of the pressure to modify the CAP, reduce subsidies and so on. We have to anticipate that the reference price will be eroded. So while there is no immediate problem we can see that there may be difficulties in the longer term.

· I was interested to hear your explanation of the problems in the trading relationship with the countries of the former Soviet Union. Are you exploring other export avenues for the bauxite! alumina industry?

-Yes we are, although we don't have any real problem in selling our bauxite. We could find other markets. The real problem at the moment is that the world price is depressed and, therefore, the returns on it are not as good as they were a couple of years ago. But this is a function of the world economy and there is very little we can do about it. We hope that we will be able to reactivate the trade with Eastern Europe because they were taking over 5 million tonnes of bauxite but our industry was not dependent on that-it was the icing on the cake. I can say that the Ukrainians are very keen on maintaining the relationship and continuing to receive our bauxite. So I am hopeful that, as soon as they can Bet their act together, we will be able to resume the trade with them.

· History seems to be littered with failed-or at least only partially successful-attempts to achieve regional integration in the Caribbean. Indeed, a commentator on local Jamaican television suggested recently that integration may not necessarily be a good thing and that small countries could survive quite happily without such arrangements. What do you think ?

-That is complete nonsense. All of us who are members of Caricom need the organisation. It is of value to us. Admittedly, internal Caricom trade is not as great as it could be but it is still important; for example, here in Jamaica it provides a good market for our light manufacturing industries. But more significantly, the existence of a single market in the Caricom region, which is what we are working towards, will increase its attraction to outside investors. You start with a larger market base and, with different islands having different comparative advantages, everyone is in a position to benefit from investments coming from outside.

It also gives us a forum for negotiating on a more realistic basis, for example with the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) or with the countries of Latin America.

Caricom is important to us in Jamaica and we believe that it needs to be strengthened. We also see it as a base from which the English-speaking Caribbean can integrate more closely with the Latin American region of which we are. geographically, a part. It is being recognised more and more that our economic future is bound up with the extent to which we can integrate ourselves into the Latin American region - the wider Caribbean if you like-which embraces the countries of Central America and those of South America that border the Caribbean Sea.

Although progress towards the somewhat grand objectives of the Chaguaramas Treaty ' has been slow, and marked by some disappointments, we have nevertheless moved forward. At the most recent meeting, decisions were taken on the basis of a report presented by the West Indian Commission which is chaired by Sonny Ramphal. These allow us to progress at a pace which everybody is comfortable with. There is no point in trying to move too quickly and not carrying everyone with you.

So the future of Caricom is assured. It is just a question of how fast it is wise to go and the extent to which we can make use of the real benefits that accrue from being able to act as a coherent and cohesive body.

Let me give you a practical example. One of the problems that we all face is the cost of diplomatic representation abroad. As we open up and develop trade and because we need technical and, in some cases, financial assistance from donor countries, it is essential for us to have a diplomatic presence in the outside world but it is an expensive business for small countries to do by themselves. One of the planks in the Commission's proposal is that we should beg,in to share the costs of diplomatic representation and I think that this will enable us-individually and collectively-to have a much wider outreach at lower cost.

In fact, we have already been very successful in operating as a coherent group in fore such as the Organisation of American States (OAS), the United Nations, in our dealings with the USA and Canada and of course, in the ACP Group. We have worked closely together and have benefited from this.

· I believe that the Dominican Republic applied to join Caricom ?

-Yes, we had applications to join Caricom from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and even Venezuela while Puerto Rico has expressed interest in some form of association. The conclusion we have come to is that it would be unwise for us to try and extend Caricom to include countries like the Dominican Republic because you could overburden the structure. The total population of Caricom is five million and the Dominican Republic alone has six million people. Haiti has another six million. So we have accepted the proposal put forward by the Ramphal Commission that the integrity of Caricom should be maintained. We have a lot in common, both historically and culturally, and we have already gone some way towards creating a single market. We think that to attempt to bring in other countries at this stage would set back that process. We aim to continue strengthening and deepening Caricom while at the same time, seeking to establish what is called en 'association of Caribbean States' of which Caricom would be a part. That would enable us to establish functional linkages with the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dutch and French Islands and the Caribbean countries of Central and Southern America. So that is the way that we see the development of integration in this region-not through the enlargement of Caricom itself.

· What is the Jamaican Government's position on relations with Haiti?

-Our position is extremely clear. We were very active in the run-up to the election which brought President Aristide to power. We provided them with a lot of technical and other monitoring assistance. Working very closely with the Carter Centre in Atlanta, the OAS and other organisations, we helped them to put their electoral machinery in place, to prepare voters' rolls and so on. So we were happy when the elections took place and a democratically elected President took office.

Of course, it is not for us to determine who is the right person to be elected, but given the result of the election, Aristide is constitutionally the President of Haiti and he is the only person we recognise as such. Since he was ousted, we have played an active role in the OAS and elsewhere in seeking to mobilise assistance from the wider international community. We believe, firstly, in enforcing the embargo and secondly, in trying to achieve a political settlement and we will continue with that approach. We are quite uncompromising in our contention that, unless and until Aristide is restored as a functioning President, we cannot recognise any regime there. We will continue to press for the people who have seized control-the junta, or whatever you want to call it-to be ostracised by the international community. We are also committed that once constitutional government is restored, we will do whatever we can to mobilise international assistance to meet Haiti's needs. They need a structure, a civil service and a security force that is separate from the army. They need massive economic assistance to get their economy on the move again and all of this is going to require a lot of development cooperation from the international community as a whole.

We have been very vocal in insisting that the OAS must be concerned not only with solving the legal problem, but also in making a commitment that once constitutional government is restored, it will take on board the larger, long-term problem of creating a viable social, political and economic environment in Haiti.

· You talk of ostracising those in control in Haiti but of course you have another close neighbour which has been ostracised by the United States for a long time. What is the state of relations between Jamaica and Cuba?

-We have good relations with Cuba. They have a resident ambassador here and we have an ambassador to Cuba although he is stationed in Jamaica. Indeed, we have a long standing relationship. Many Jamaicans have migrated to Cuba and still live there. We recognise, of course, that because of the hostility of the United States, we can't push this too far, otherwise the US becomes very critical towards us, but we do not observe the unilateral embargo which they have imposed on Cuba.

There isn't a great deal of trade between us because our economies are similar in many ways but we do cooperate and are doing so increasingly in the field of tourism. Cuba is trying to rebuild this sector and there is no doubt that it could be an attractive destination. We recognise that we can both benefit from working together in this area. Jamaican entrepreneurs are operating tourist facilities in Cuba and there is a regular interchange of visitors between the two countries.

We don't think that this antagonism between Cuba and the United States is permanent. One day it will come to an end and we think that when it does, it will have been very much in our interests to have established joint tourism operations.

We are also about to sign some agreements with Cuba in areas of common interest. These involve exchanges of technology, the simplification of visa procedures and action against narcotics trafficking which is certainly a problem for both of us.

Basically, our policy is to do what we can to help the reintegration of Cuba into the North and Latin American families as quickly as possible. We recognise, of course, that as long as the US maintains its present policy, this can only go so far, but nevertheless we feel-and increasingly this is the view throughout Latin America-that we have to do everything we can to encourage the Cubans to open up their economy, to democratise their system and so on. We think that the best way of doing that is by letting them know that we want them on board, as part of the regional system. I think that with the collapse of their linkages with the Eastern bloc, they themselves are increasingly recognising that this is the only way forward. The one missing element is some shift in American policy. I don't expect that to happen overnight but I am hopeful that such a shift will begin to take place-perhaps even without anyone admitting it.

In short, we think that Cuba has to change, in terms of both its political and its economic system but it is much better if that change takes place in a peaceful way, rather than through another bloody revolution.

· One final question concerning the future of cooperation with the European Community. You have spoken a lot about the common interests of the countries in the Caribbean basin. Yet the ACP Group consists of nations from three very distinct regions of the world, and its composition is based on historical linkages with EC Member States rather than any particular geographical or economic logic. What do you say to the suggestion that it may be time for the Community to look at a new configuration in its development cooperation relationships?

-I haven't really thought about that, to be quite frank. But I do think that it is in the interests of all three regions to continue to work together. Obviously, our concerns are not always identical but, by and large, we have a sufficient commonality of interests to make it worthwhile for us to negotiate with the European Community as a group.

Some people might feel that we in the Caribbean, for instance, could do better if we dealt with Community on our own. I do not hold to that view myself. I think that the European Community will increasingly cease to regard their association under the Lomonvention as some sort of assuagement for their colonial past and more and more as a basis for commercial relationships. With this in mind, it is obviously better for us to operate as a larger grouping.

In short, the best way for us to maintain our links with Europe and to maximise the benefits we can get is under the ACP umbrella. That - at the moment at any rate-is our policy.