Caribbean ponders "collateral damage" from WTO ruling

by Patrick Smikle

MIAMI: In modern warfare, with its guided missiles, so-called
smart bombs and other precision weaponry, the term "collateral
damage" has been coined to describe unintended casualties.
To a number of Caribbean politicians, academics, trade
officials and development workers, this is the situation in
which the Caribbean finds itself as the United States
celebrates victory over the European Union in their nearly six-
year struggle at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
A ruling by a WTO dispute settlement panel on 7 April agreed
with the US position that the arrangements under which bananas
from former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the
Pacific (ACP) are imported into Europe, continued to violate
the rules of the international trade body.
The Clinton administration has insisted that these quotas
and preferential tariff arrangements discriminate against US
transnational companies which own massive banana plantations in
Central America. And it had dismissed changes to the regime,
the most recent of which were implemented last January, as
The 7 April ruling cleared the way for Washington to impose
100% tariffs on a range of goods worth some $191 million
imported into the US from Europe. This was a significant
reduction from the $520 million the US had announced.
Critics of the US position have repeatedly pointed out that
the United States does not produce bananas and have charged
that the Clinton administration's action is a political payoff
to the US banana transnational Chiquita Brands whose Chairman,
Carl Lindner, is a major election campaign contributor to
both the Republican and Democratic parties.
While agreeing that Lindner's political clout has influenced
the US action, some Caribbean leaders point to what they say is
a larger issue.
"Both the US and Europe have much larger interests (than
Caribbean bananas) at stake," says Renrick Rose, who leads the
St. Vincent-based Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA).

Hegemony in the WTO

Rose identified one of these interests as "the whole question
of hegemony in the WTO." He pointed out that "a number of the
WTO rules are still untested," and speculated that "the US,
from the outset, wants to set the agenda and impose its own
direction and interpretation of WTO regulations".
"The US sees itself having to battle the EU, Japan and the
Asian bloc," Rose told IPS in a telephone interview from
Kingston. "If we (Caribbean banana producers) have to suffer in
the process, well too bad for us. As far as they are concerned,
there are bigger interests at stake."
Dr. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, the largest
producer in the Windward Islands, takes a similar position.
Noting that Caribbean producers have just over 3% of the world
banana trade and about 9% of the European market, Anthony says
the Caribbean producers are just helpless victims in a trade
war between the US and the European Union.
"The United States has chosen bananas in the Caribbean to
wage its war with Europe. Now very clearly, we are the hapless
victims in that war," he told journalists at a news conference
in Miami. "We didn't contribute to that war. We don't want
that war," he said, "and we think there ought to be a more
civilized approach to managing those problems."
"We are part of the collateral damage," says Anthony Bryan,
Professor of International Relations at the University of
Miami's North-South Centre. Like others monitoring and dealing
with the situation, Bryan is concerned about the impending
"Unfortunately, Europe isn't going to win this one," he told
IPS. "The EU will have no choice but to put into operation a
type of regime that meets WTO rules. And this type of regime
will not be able to sustain the viability of the regional
banana industry."


"There is a transition to be made and the time for making it
is now, not when the industry has collapsed," he said. While
acknowledging the restrictions of small size and the problems
of resource shortage, especially for the tiny economies such as
Dominica, Bryan argues that diversification and the achievement
of economic prosperity is not beyond the capacity of the
banana-producing countries. He points to Barbados, with its
lack of natural resources, as a model.
He says, however, that the countries will need substantial
development and technical assistance in the transition period.
Development assistance projects which have been proposed by the
US are commendable, he said.
"But the problem exceeds the capacity of those programmes,"
he says, calling for consultations between the EU, the US and
the Caribbean both to design a new import regime as well as to
draw up technical assistance programmes to help the banana-
producing countries out of the economic crisis which will be
the inevitable result of the latest developments.
Renrick Rose says WINFA has always advocated this approach.
He says the Association was not surprised by the outcome at the
WTO as in setting up the rules of the organization, the big
countries had not taken the interests of small-island states
into consideration.
"In the context of trade and world capitalism, it doesn't
matter whether you are small and suffering," Rose said." You
have to compete. It's the same rules for all."
He said it was now time for these states to use Washington's
oft-stated interest in maintaining the stability of the region
to push for increased development aid. But he was not overly
confident about the outcome of any such effort. "The US is
notorious for not providing any serious development assistance
to the region," he said.
The same point was made by Anthony of St. Lucia.
"The United States is contributing very little to economic
support in the Caribbean at this time," he told journalists.
"The transformation that is taking place in Caribbean economies
right now is largely being financed by the European Union. And
ironically, the support we have got from the Europeans has in
fact transformed the banana industry in the Caribbean." (IPS)

The above article by an Inter Press Service journalist appeared
in the SUNS.