The World Around Us
February 2, 2021
Caribbean-US Relations in the Biden Era

Now that the Biden Administration has begun, one would imagine that just about every country, region and major international organisation is positioning itself to get the attention of the President and his team. One would hope that the Caribbean grabs the attention of the new administration sooner than later, notwithstanding the asymmetries in size, power and influence in favour of the United States (US).

An area of immediate priority for the Caribbean in any approach to the Biden Administration should be combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In this regard, the Caribbean may wish to urge the US to use its leadership role around the world to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines and other methods for the treatment of COVID-19.

The Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have developed a plan known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, with the aim of advancing the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. Several lower-income funded nations, who would otherwise be unable to afford these vaccines, as well as a number of higher-income self-financing countries that have no bilateral deals with manufacturers, will be covered by COVAX.

The Trump Administration had decided not to participate in the COVAX initiative. The Caribbean should encourage the Biden Administration to reconsider this decision because the presence of the US will add much needed resources to the COVAX facility.

The Caribbean may also wish to seek the support of the Biden Administration in pushing back against income-based criteria as a basis for determining which countries can have concessional access to vaccines.

Notwithstanding the COVAX Facility, concerns remain that a significant portion of the global population, mostly in low and middle-income countries, will not have access to a vaccine shot until 2022. Meanwhile, as of mid-November 2020, many developed and advanced economies were reported to have reserved 51 percent of nearly 7.5 billion doses of different Covid-19 vaccines, although these countries comprise just 14 percent of the world’s population.

The Caribbean may want to impress on the Biden Administration to use America’s global clout to address this serious and ethical issue of worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The second issue that the Caribbean may want to take up with the Biden Administration relates to Cuba. One of the Trump Administration’s outgoing acts was to return Cuba to the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Caribbean should press the Biden Administration to reverse this action in as short a time frame as possible.

The region should also continue to advocate for the full normalisation

of ties between the US and Cuba. Importantly, this would include the lifting of the economic embargo on Cuba, a relic of a time long gone.

Another area of priority for the Caribbean may include climate change.

Hours after Biden’s inauguration, the US rejoined the Paris climate accord.

This was as clear a sign as any that the new Administration intends to play a critical role in the global fight against climate change. Climate change is an existential threat to the entire Caribbean region and there is now an opportunity to work with the Biden Administration to map out a comprehensive plan for the US and the Caribbean to work together on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

During the last Presidential campaign in the US, the Biden-Harris ticket outlined an ambitious plan known as the Green New Deal to address the global climate emergency.

Under this plan, the Biden Administration intends to rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change. The Caribbean can certainly make a strong case to benefit from collaboration with the US to build green infrastructure, reduce carbon emissions and strengthen innovative capacity for climate change mitigation solutions.

On trade and investment, the Caribbean and the US have had a very close relationship for decades. To the credit of the Trump Administration, last year, it renewed the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA), a programme which seeks to facilitate the development of the region by providing beneficiary countries with duty-free access to the US market for most goods originating in beneficiary countries.

However, there is scope for both sides to take concrete steps to activate a plan to boost food production, develop manufacturing and support economic diversification in the Caribbean.

Finally, a more global and engaged US is in the interest of the Caribbean.

The US is a neighbour, a friend (most of the times) and a development partner for the Caribbean.

A more cooperative US is therefore a welcome change from the “America first” of the Trump years.