Darby Etienne MA Diplomacy

There remains across the Caribbean, especially in OECS countries, a strong dependency on Tourism.

Tourism has been unrivalled since Europe’s failure to beat the Americans at the WTO, causing the removal of the last vestige of preferential treatments shown to banana producers.

So when the United Kingdom, decided to broaden their green tax by Notice 550 Air Passenger Duty levied on the carriage from a UK airport with chargeable passengers on chargeable aircraft such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways came into force from the 1st of November 2010 all hell broke loose.

In order to explain how the weaknesses in the diplomatic services caused the introduction of the tax to go ahead let’s consider Christopher Hill’s definition of diplomacy, ‘Getting your own way in international politics as well as a crucial instrument in building international stability’.

The Caribbean states have clearly failed to get their own way in this fiscal negotiation and in relation to the latter part of the definition the UK has taken advantage of their failure to utilise diplomatic instruments to build economic stability.

APD hit the Caribbean like a tsunami. Photo courtesy journalweek.com

Diplomats are the nations’ eyes and ears so they must be alert to emerging problems. Of course there is no guarantee that Foreign Ministry employees are tuned in to what is coming down the line, and even where they are and bring matters to the attention of their leaders, there is no guarantee they will be listened to.

The Heads of Tourism started to rock in astonishment when the implication of the tax dawned on them. This in real terms meant an increase of an average £75 (seventy five pounds Sterling) per ticket to the Caribbean making it more expensive than travelling to Hawaii.

The delegation of OECS Tourism Ministers to London to engage the British Travel Industry and Parliamentary bodies was symptomatically Caribbean and typically late. The horse had bolted and ridden off into the British Exchequer. Needless to say our diplomats need to be proactive and not reactive to be relevant.

Diplomacy is more important to weak states since they often have less leverage and more to lose. The Caribbean states must learn to strike whilst the iron is hot – late is too late.  The APD was first introduced in 1994 and charged at the rate of £5 on flights within the UK and to other countries in the European Economic Area and £10 on flights elsewhere.

These rates were increased to £10 and £20 respectively from 1 November 1997 and then remained frozen for 5 years despite the concerns about the impact of aviation on the environment.

David Jessop, director of Caribbean Council. Photo courtesy caribbean-council.org

When the then Chancellor Gordon Brown, maybe sensing a recession, announced that all duties would be doubled by the 1st of February 2007 there should have been energetic  advocacy by Caribbean Tourism interests to halt the developing trend.

It is time to fight back through a process of advocacy, television broadcast, publication in books, magazines and newspapers. Make the politicians who travel first class at their nations’ expense aware of the crucial effect the tax increases, on flights going to the Caribbean from the UK, are having on low income travellers, and its drastic effects on the economies of the Caribbean. Whether you are in the front of the plane or the back, we are all in it together it’s our countries that suffer.

At the UN World Tourism Organisation UK, tourism minister John Penrose said the government was “trying to work out if we can reduce the impact of APD on passengers’ bills”. He was quoted as saying “I am trying to get some changes to it, but I don’t know if I’m going to get it.

The UK with this Green Tax is collecting an additional £2.3 billion of much needed revenue…Can anyone see the possibility of the authorities removing that revenue from their treasury?

I don’t think so”. Notwithstanding Penrose’s snide remarks, the Caribbean Council are set to debate the APD yet again in the Main Chamber of the House of Commons on Thursday 1 November 2012 in an effort to pressure the British government to roll back the taxes. What are your thoughts…?