The region is ill-prepared for President Trump
Dispossessed by economic globalisation,faced with growing economic inequality, and wanting change, the people of theUnited States have elected Donald Trump to be their President.In doing so, they voted for the unknown, for rhetoric that may or may not bemet by commensurate action, and for a man without political or militaryexperience.
In his campaign, Mr Trump skilfully exploitedwhat has become known as post-factual politics. This is the practice wherebysomeone in, or running for high office, speak untruths, draws factuallyincorrect conclusions, makes assertions, provides no policy details, and has noconsistent philosophy.
The inference was that US voter anger andsentiment existed to be rendered not into practical alternatives, but used todrive a belief that the individual, in this case Mr Trump, has the ability and knowsbest how to transform the lives of voters.
Since his election victory Mr Trump hasbeen emollient.
The first test of his intentions, however,will come in his choice of cabinet and senior advisers. But of much greater significancewill be hearing how the President elect intends meeting his domestic agenda,the area where his supporters expect rapid change, and the consequent impacthis approach may have on US external trade policy.
For him the strong recovery of the USeconomy and the US national interest is paramount. If he is to deliver, he mustfocus not just on building infrastructure, but on finding ways that createhigher value employment. He will also have to create low skilled jobs in theold and dying economy of the rust belt in ways that make economic sense at atime when other nations are moving to automation and robotics.
This suggests that an early priority for MrTrump will be to protect the US economy though a repudiation of the world tradesystem, if it does not accept his thinking, and to perhaps bring about someform of economic confrontation with China.
If the new President is true to his word, andthe Republican establishment, the US’s traditional allies, and real politick donot restrain him, his policy will be isolationist and protectionist, and unburdenedby ideology. His words would also appear to mean the rewinding of economichistory and that US foreign, security and trade policy will have to changeaccordingly.
Judging from what Mr Trump has saidpreviously, he sees little value in trying to change other countries systems.For him relationships are about winning, and extracting the maximum economic valuefor the US. As an aggressive deal maker, he places value on strongauthoritarian leadership, a huge defence budget and the decisive use ofmilitary might only when absolutely necessary. He is adamant that otherscountries will in one or another way have to pay their way if they expect USsupport.
If a Trump presidency were to be consistentwith the approach that he outlined during his campaign, one can see manypractical problems emerging for the Caribbean and Latin America.
His stated intention to make Mexico pay theUnited States to secure its borders from flows of illegal Hispanic migrants,appears likely to pose the most immediate challenge. If it happens, it may causehemispheric groupings like the Organisation of American States (OAS) or the Communityof Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to have to take a position, potentiallypitting the rest of the hemisphere against the US.
Mr Trump has also in recent months beenhighly critical of Venezuela and Cuba. He has made clear in Cuba’s case, thathe would want a transactional relationship. He intends, he said, to “make it rough …. until a really good deal canbe made for the Cuban people and for the United States”. “We have to make adeal that’s good for the Cuban people and I would make sure that the deal iseither made, or I’d have nothing to do with them,” he told a Miami radiostation just a few days before being elected. It is a proposition Havana isunlikely to respond well to.
If true to his word, within days of takingoffice, he will by executive action attempt to tear up the recently ratified globalagreement on climate change, a text of existential importance to the Caribbean.It will be a decision that will require the region to react.
He has also said that he will abandonexisting trade deals. If he is genuinely intent on doing this, it is not hardto see his administration making demands for access for US goods and serviceson the basis of reciprocity. It is also possible that tax penalties would belevied on those US manufacturers who have offshored their manufacturing orassembly plants into locations like the Caribbean to take advantage of a morefavourable tax environment. One might also imagine a Trump administrationexpressing concern about China’s growing and central role in investment toaccess the US market in manufacturing and services in the Caribbean region.
Translated into Caribbean terms, otheraspects of his professed approach may mean his administration will require theCaribbean to fully meet the costs of its own security; for example, guaranteeingthe safety of US visitors. More positively, however, Mr Trump understandstourism and real estate development, and it may be that this will be thepositive optic through which he and his administration comes to view theCaribbean.
Earlier this year, this column observedthat the election of a President Trump would have clear implications for theCaribbean. It noted that the region has become used to the global status quothat has emerged since the second world war, the rules driven trade system atthe WTO, multilateral treaties, and organisations such as the UN that havegiven even the smallest countries a global voice, based on a recognised needfor consensus.
It is worth repeating that if the US Presidentelect is intent on delivering even a part of his stated policy, the Caribbeanis ill prepared to address his brand of twenty-first century politics.
David Jessop is a consultant to theCaribbean Council and can be contacted at
Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org