The European Challenge for the Caribbean

The new Caribbean Council for Europe wants to build bridges between Caribbean corporations and Europe's new Single Market. Executive Director David Jessop explains how the council works

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The Caribbean and Europe’s new Single Market

Compare today’s news about Europe with the headlines of ten years ago, and you cannot help being struck by the way the issues have changed. Who in 1983 would have thought that Europe’s concerns would include a civil war, refugees flowing across borders once guarded with cold military efficiency, and fears that the deepening of European integration would lead to economic instability?

In the days of the cold war, Europe and the United States recognised the importance of a continuing commitment to the development of regions such as the Caribbean, if only for political reasons. But paradoxically, with the cold war won, there is a real danger of marginalisation for the Caribbean as other issues come to dominate the agenda.

Worse still, many in the Caribbean seem unprepared for a world of big, powerful trading blocs. The region’s response to such changes has been slow, despite the fact that many of the economic assumptions on which the Caribbean’s links with Europe and North America are based will be subject to challenge in the years ahead.

The test case for the new Europe’s intentions towards the Caribbean will be ensuring a degree of long-term stability for exports from the banana-producing nations of the region, in terms of both price and quantity. If the EC and its member states cannot defend such a long-standing and crucial Caribbean export, then the ability of the Caribbean (and probably the African, Caribbean and Pacific States as a whole) to maintain other preferential arrangements on sugar, rum and other products looks bleak.

Against this deeply disturbing background and uncertainty, the private sector in the Caribbean and private sector companies and organisations in Europe with a long-term interest in the region have formed the Caribbean Council for Europe (CCE), which will monitor developments in Europe that might adversely affect the Caribbean and will lobby as necessary. The new body will also identify and promote trade and investment opportunities.

The Council was established last June by the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the Caribbean Hotels Association and the London-based West India Committee. They have since been joined by the National Business Council in the Dominican Republic and the Private Sector Association of Guyana.

The CCE is an unusual association. It does not ask its charter members to subscribe to a general series of ideals. Rather, it targets its actions on the interests of those companies and associations that support it. It is in effect a joint venture between large Caribbean and European companies that are members of private sector associations with a positive vision of a strong and continuing trade and investment relationship between Europe and the Caribbean.

The CCE provides specific services to a limited membership and reacts only to those issues that concern its members as a group or individually. It is a unique, independent extension of the activities of individual Caribbean and European companies; it has the sort of access and the scope for action in Europe and the Caribbean which individual companies may not always find possible.

Membership of the CCE is exclusive and limited. Full services are provided to its 60 large charter member companies from the Caribbean and Europe. In 1993 a new category of membership will be established for any company that wishes to have access to the detailed information that the CCE will be producing.

The CCE’s board of management is chaired by David Tate of Tate and Lyle plc. Its Deputy Chairman is Sidney Knox, Chairman of Neal and Massy Holdings in Trinidad and Tobago. Members include Denis Lalor, Chairman of the ICWI group in Jamaica; George Arzeno Brugal, President of the Brugal Group in the Dominican Republic; and David Suratgar, Group Director of the investment bankers Morgan Grenfell.

In addition to the CCE’s lobbying and information activities in Europe and the Caribbean, charter members receive a wide range of benefits which include:

• Weekly reports by fax on issues of importance arising in Europe

• Monitoring and lobbying on general and specific issues where necessary in conjunction with lobbyists or lawyers

• Free receipt of studies on specific Europe/Caribbean issues and market sectors

• The services and assistance of a specialist staff with a wide knowledge of Europe/Caribbean issues

• Provision of data bases at no cost, updated on an annual basis or more frequently if required

• The organisation of events in European capitals aimed at creating new Europe/Caribbean commercial linkages.

Among the issues that are regularly monitored in Europe are bananas; rum; sugar; legal, administrative and other decisions affecting the Lomé Convention; regulations affecting Caribbean exports to Europe; EC/NAFT A relations; negotiations for a successor agreement for Lomé IV and the Lomé mid-term review; and the Dependent Territories in the Caribbean.

The completion of the Single European Market and the agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada to establish a North American Free Trade Area clearly present the Caribbean with its single biggest challenge since independence. Those involved with bringing the CCE into being believe that it will play a substantial role in ensuring that the Caribbean private sector’s voice is not forgotten in the future. It will certainly be involved in the difficult discussions about the Caribbean’s future relationship with Europe that lie ahead.

Meanwhile the CCE is happy to supply copies of its prospectus and work programme to major Caribbean and European companies, and has produced a brochure providing further information. •

The Caribbean Council for Europe, Nelson House, 8/9 Northumberland Street, London WC2N 5RA, England. Tel. 071 976- 1493, fax 071 976 1541.


BRUSSELS SCOUTS

For visiting businessmen, Graham Norton offers a quick introduction to the capital of the European Community

You can find your feet almost at once in Brussels. It’s a small city, with under a million people, easy to get about in, easy to live in.

No problem about getting there. BWIA flies between the Caribbean and Frankfurt, Bonn/Cologne, Munich, Zurich, London and Stockholm, all within easy reach of Brussels. There are frequent, sometimes hourly flights from Europe’s capitals and big cities, including London and Frankfurt. The airport, Zaventem, is old-fashioned (a new one is planned), but is only 14 km from the city centre. Direct trains from the airport leave for Central and North stations every 18 minutes on average, and take about the same time to get there. A oneway train ticket costs just over US$1.00, at BF 75. There’s a good metro, and excellent trams and buses. A 10- ticket MTB, at only 220 BF, is useable on all public transport.

Brussels lists 120 hotels, in all price ranges. A few offer rooms (for two, with bath) at under BF 1,500, including a continental breakfast of rolls and coffee. Most others range upwards to around BF 6,500-10,000. Caribbean ministers and heads of government, in Brussels strictly for business of course, have their favourite hotels.

One, the Amigo, in the old quarter near the top restaurants, is just right for those who want to eat out somewhere different every night, though it has a small and pleasant restaurant of its own. The Sheraton (expensive) has comfortable rooms, good international food and a magnificent rooftop health club and swimming pool. The Europa, on the Rue de la Loi, is closest to the European Community Commission buildings. A good hotel guide is available free from tourist offices, as is a Gourmet Guide.

The Belgians take food very seriously: huge portions of the very best is what you can expect to find in most of the 1,800 restaurants. Expect to pay from BF 750 up for table d’hôte, BF 950 if you are choosing a la carte.

In a country famous for its fish and mussels, Seheltema (7 rue des Dominicains, off the Grand Place) is justly renowned. Try their three-fish speciality, jardiniere de sale, turbotin et noix de St. Jacques, cooked in a champagne sauce. For a very special dinner (at about BF 2,250 a head) go to the ancient Maison du Cygne (House of the Swan) on the Grand Place itself. This square is the heart of Brussels. Destroyed on the orders of King Louis XIV of France in 1695, it was rebuilt in classical style, grander than ever, thick gold leaf glinting from its facades and statuary. Nearby, in the Rue de l’Etuve, is the 17th-century symbol of the city, the bronze Mannekin Pis, relieving himself into the bowl of the fountain.

Brussels is famous for beer and chocolates (they taste better if you don’t consume them together). There’s a special, naturally fermented beer, gueuz. Try it at La Morte Subite, 7 Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes-Potageres, near the Grand Place, an almost untouched 100-year-old beer hall loved by locals.

Chocolates, luscious, often hand-made, are on sale everywhere. The glass-roofed shopping galleries which snake their way from block to block also tempt visitors with luxury items like local lace or small antiques. Among favourite hunting-grounds are the Galeries Royales, the Galeries de la Monnaie near the opera house, or the up-town boutiques in the Galeries Louise or de la Toison d’Or. If you are a chocolate addict, tastings are available: phone Brussels 513 86 30 for your fix.