Finally Fighting Back?

FOLLOWING the European Union’s naming of four Caribbean nations among its seventeen jurisdictions blacklisted as tax havens earlier this month, it seems that the 44-year-old Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will, at long last, wake up from another of its seasonal naps and speak up with a strong and unequivocal voice in its defense.

Saint Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago were flagged in the report, with Saint Lucia being described as having “harmful preferential tax regimes, does not apply the BEPS (base erosion and profit shifting) minimum standards and did not clearly commit to addressing these issues by 31 December 2018.”

Despite being notified that they made the list, offending countries are yet to be given any clarification as to why they made the list, let alone be in a position presently to even determine what steps needed to be taken to get off the list.

The embarrassment of the scenario is such that even the Minister for Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development in Barbados, DonvilleInniss, is quoted as saying that he is yet to fathom “what the problem is” that landed his country on the EU’s blacklist.

Even Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, who described the four CARICOM countries making the list as an “unfortunate” development, has questioned the rationale behind the list, saying that CARICOM does “all what we have to do to ensure and assure the security of the world”. According to Skerrit, while the Caribbean territories do aspire to meet international standards, that endeavour does come with a number of challenges, including investing heavily into maintaining such mechanisms as well as remaining competitive.

But Skerrit hinted at what might be the shifting tide of CARICOM diplomacy and geopolitics with the rest of the world that continues to dictate policies and carve up plans that often tend to destabilize fragile economies.

“I think CARICOM should start coming up with its own list, too, and start blacklisting countries likewise,” he said on Tuesday. “Is that a practice we should take or route we should take?” he asked reporters.

The mere fact that CARICOM nations depend heavily on foreign aid from the European Union – from whence the bulk of such aid emanates – there seems to be a hesitance to challenge or criticize any external policy that poses internal chaos, including in the sphere of competitive business. At long last, CARICOM – if Skerrit’s modus operandi can be seen as a reflection of the new CARICOM mantra – has finally not only awoken to the harsh reality of deciding to level the geopolitical playing field, but actually gearing up to participate in the brutal game.

Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s response to Saint Lucia making the list has been that discussions will be held with the European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “to hopefully find a way in which we can either agree to abolish some of the tax regimes that we have currently in Saint Lucia, or to amend them in order to be able to meet what we call their minimum standards”. The question, however, is do these countries that often fault us for not doing what they expect always live up to the very expectations they have of us?

While the European Union will obviously have its qualms with how business is done in the region, it must also understand that there are many outstanding issues that literally forces the Caribbean to determine the best policies for its survival, notwithstanding that illegality should not be part of that equation.

For instance, there is still the outstanding matter of the Caribbean being categorized above its baseline standards by virtue of the flawed criteria used to measure our socio-economic indicators. Right now, nearly 50,000 Haitians are about to be repatriated from the United States simply because the EU’s ally, the United States, is adamant that things are better off in Haiti’s post-earthquake period than before. There’s also the issue of repatriation that seems to fall on deaf ears.

If the new move for CARICOM is to do unto others as they are doing unto the region, it might take some getting used to and there is the risk losing friends. But sometimes standing up beats sleeping, especially when dreams can be stolen overnight.

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