Thursday 3rd August 2006

 

Top UN rep sees nation-building as key

 
 
 
 
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United Nations assistant secretary Shoji Nishimoto.

Photo: Andre Alexander

BY CORDIELLE STREET

With ever increasing talk of regional integration, Haiti, Caricom, the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), migration of an educated workforce, free trade and the economic impact of HIV/Aids all bear on the minds of decision makers.

Yet, international experts emphasize that for T&T its global positioning and emerging leadership of the region will shape the future of the Caribbean.

“Do you think you have much of an option given your size and your competitive structure? Do you have much of an option other than to make Caricom work and make yourself a viable regional entity that could compete economically on the global stage and then it is going to be a challenge. I think the answer is obvious,” said United Nations head of the region’s bureau, Dr Inyang Harstrup.

Harstrup, along with United Nations assistant secretary Shoji Nishimoto and International Development Bank country representative William Robinson, joined the Business Guardian last week for a round table on the challenges facing the Caribbean.

Nishimoto, an economist by profession, has 22 years in the Asian banking sector and is also the assistant administrator and director of the bureau for Development Policy at United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“I don’t think we are looking at this economic integration as our area of competence,” he said cautiously.

“The region can benefit a lot at looking at other sub-regional, regional integration models available in the continent of Latin America and others like Europe,” said Nishimoto.

“I think every nation should have its own idea of what kind of nation it wants to build. I am a great believer in the philosophy of nation-building.

“We are now living in a globalised world and people tend to forget the importance of the nation, the entity of this thing called a nation that is first and foremost our home.”

To Nishimoto, the main economic challenge facing Caricom and CSME is creating a system that can benefit both the larger and smaller island countries equally.

“It is always a comparative advantage, a territory. It is very hard to establish a region with similar levels of development, similar industrial structure but it is much easier to have an integration or collaboration of a different type of structure,” he said.

“If the world is perfect, free trade is good for everyone but in reality there are forms of groupings and collective bargaining or collective arrangement which may serve the interest of a particular group over a certain time and in my sense for the Caribbean islands to have a sub-regional stance of certain issues make very good sense.”

According to the UN assistant secretary general before worrying aboutthe free movement of products and people in line with CSME, the region should consider its competitive advantage versus the rest of the world and its maintenance of a homogeneous industrial policy.

“You can sacrifice the short-term loss with the long-term gain but the long-term gain is always under the assumption that your industrial structure will be able to adjust accordingly and you are able to build your competitiveness in certain areas and this in theory should happen but it is not always the case.”

It is his opinion that developing countries should benefit from preferential trade agreements a while longer and that theory also applies to Caricom, CSME and the Organised Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

“In reality even in a developed country certain protection remains, non-tariff barriers remain and certain trade is not necessarily driven by just price consideration alone. Considering all those things, I think they are jumping into the theory just a little too fast. The open trade regime may not necessarily be beneficial,” said Nishimoto.

Robinson feels the examples of economic integration in Latin America mean one thing.

“I think the region is looking for new models and new ways to create new economies and new relationships. I think that is wise. I think the globalisation process is seeing a shifting of production, globally and regionally.

“All nations need to look to establishing new productive trade and economic relations with their neighbours. Clearly the models are changing…the challenges are still the same, increase productivity, respect the environment, provide sustainability, improve governance and distribution of the resources and productivity of the society.”

While in theory the aims are ambitious, the laws need to necessitate the change.

“We need new laws, we need new experiments and I think we are entering an exciting era where some of the old orthodoxies will give way to new locally engendered models,” added Robinson.

For the region development challenges include health reform, the HIV/Aids epidemic, the gender disparity, the skills gap and Haiti which all fall in the Millennium Development Goals.

“Lifting somebody living below US$1 a day to even two or three dollars a day is not going to solve problems or poverty. So the income poverty is only part of the equation, we have to address other non-income, non-financial related deprivation of the right to participate, the right to have access to judicial services, the right to receive a good education and health services, these are not monetary, not income related issues,” said Nishimoto.

“The healthy and intelligent labour force is a major asset for the country including developing nations. Health should not be considered a consumption, there should really be a long term investment in one of the most important resources you have which is the people.”

He added, “This is a small region with not a big population but a high ratio of HIV/Aids infection which translates to a very serious not only economic impact but social and political implications so we have to really address these things seriously.”

And none more so affected by all the strains of the region than Haiti.

“If only for sentimental and historical reasons when you understand the genesis and the origins of the black presence in the Caribbean and the role of Haiti standing up to the past of slavery and colonialism, if only for that reason extra effort should be brought to bear to help the Haitian people out of this terrible dilemma,” said Harstrup.

“Haiti is just an extreme example of what is the fractures and difficulties of governance in the Caribbean. I do think that Caricom and T&T should take leadership roles in addressing this but addressing it in a very fundamental way,” she said.

“The one road we really don’t want to underplay and want to play more is really that countries like T&T are assuming a more important role in the international arena and such as in the UN conventions, the meetings general assembly or maybe in the debate of WTO,” said Nishimoto.

“What some would say is critical about the Caribbean within the multilateral forum of the UN or any other international body, you have 14 votes and those 14 votes can be leveraged to do an enormous good, you can have an enormous influence over the agenda of a given organisation such as the UN,” added Harstrup.

 

 

 

 

 

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