Darby for CaribDirect

Darby Etienne MA Diplomacy

The halcyon days of the Caribbean on the front page of British Foreign and economic policy drifted into twilight at the end of the slave trade.

Since then there has been passing interest in trade and tourism but mother England has looked to greener pastures to plough.

Our diplomats must understand this dynamic and start listening and reading between the lines to interpret what UK politicians are truly saying.

With that understanding under their belts they can properly advise leaders back home, enabling them to make discerning choices about how to play the weak hand they have best been given.

Some diplomacy tasks are simple and straight forward such as the ceremonial ones.  But the real grind work of diplomacy requires laborious assessment of eddies and currents of world affairs.

Making a difference requires reporting on Britain’s political, social and economical conditions and understanding the cultural heritage of the British. Britain is an evolutionary society not a revolutionary one.

During the worst recession in living memory train and bus fares have increased automatically, food and energy prices go up exponentially yet the population go about their business saying sorry to each other at every opportunity.

British Prime Minister David Cameron with India Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh

British Prime Minister David Cameron with India Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Photo courtesy stars.topnews.in

When former Prime Minister Gordon Brown mentioned the Air Passenger Duty Tax in 2003 it passed with little comment from Caribbean nations. This was a serious business because the tax he proposed was subsequently implemented first on European flights then graduated to international flights with the impact of threatening to destroy our tourism market.

Fast forward to 2012 and 2013 where the issue of immigration was raised with increasing regularity; the ability to enter Europe for cultural business was granted to Caribbean countries through the Economic Partnership Agreement.

This was the first time the European Union has ever included the cultural sector into a trade agreement and so you would think that there would be a sprint to take advantage of this opportunity – not at all.

A critical review of Caribbean islands’ diplomatic infrastructure is required and diplomats need a cattle-prod administered to their nether regions to jolt them into action.

When Prime Minister David Cameron hinted in his recent infamous European speech that Britain may opt out of the EU, the Caribbean ought to take the consequences very serious.

Some of this is driven by concerns about increasing immigration so it is curious that the British PM is busy serenading the Indians and providing 24 hours visa application services to them.

In the meantime Caribbean people are being man-handled at border crossings and in many cases refused entry for no discernible reason.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s trip to India to enhance economic links last year included his usual brand of chaotic diplomacy and indulging in Indian culture.

We may consider some of this patronising; and goofing around in Bollywood may seem silly but there is something to be learned from Boris’ cultural immersion into Indian culture and how he smoothed the way for the visit of his Prime Minister David Cameron.

And of course Cameron had a pocket full of sweeties including the aforementioned streamlined visa application process to entice India. In return Britain gets access to an economic corridor between Mumbai, India’s traditional business capital, and the hi-tech centre of Bangalore.

Has the Caribbean Drifted out of Sight?

BRIC) Brazil, Russia, India and China

(BRIC) Brazil, Russia, India and China leaders. Photo courtesy stratsisincite.wordpress.com

When last did a British Prime Minister visit Caribbean countries?  Obama made it to Trinidad for the summit of the Americas; surely there was some residual value in Britain remembering former colonies!

I understand the scramble for the BRIC nations to boost trade but surely there is still value to be had in trade relations with our region. Maybe we need to follow suit and concentrate on strengthening diplomatic and trade relations with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

While David Cameron is at the crease in India perhaps our leaders should be at the ping pong table with China.

Cover photo courtesy fineartamerica.com