Sunday, 25 October 2015

The EU way is not the only way

One classic and exceedingly tiresome mantra of europhiles is that we need to be part of a large bloc to gain influence at the global level. With caveats, that's actually true. But where does it say we have to be part of the same negotiating bloc every time for every industry sector? Moreover, were is the advantage in doing that? Operating in strict regional blocs puts geographical limitations on things where no such limitations are necessary or desirable.

For this post, I'm going to borrow heavily from this paper outlining modes by which developing nations can increase their influence at the global level. At the WTO, Collective bargaining through coalitions, alliances or regional groups is a key mechanism that countries can use to influence outcomes in multilateral trade negotiations. For developing countries, membership in one or more coalitions can ease the challenges and constraints they face in negotiating and decision-making processes at the WTO, and boost their chance of influencing the agenda and outcomes of WTO negotiations in several ways.

First, coalitions can help countries build negotiating positions and proposals where their understanding of issues might otherwise be weak. By pooling resources, countries can gain greater access to technical assistance, share information, and gather more diplomatic and political intelligence. Second, by working together, the market size and political weight of a group of countries is greater than their individual weight. For instance, cotton producers of the world can easily conspire to compete with any major bloc.

Third, participation in coalitions can expand the prospect of representation of countries in key fora such as the WTO's "Green Rooms" and other small group meetings. Also, by nominating a suitable delegate to represent those groups, their interests can be represented in multiple places.

The Green Room refers to a process, rather than a specific location, in which heads of delegation seek consensus informally under the chairmanship of the Director-General. Ministers meet in a Ministerial Green Room in a bid to help find consensus on agriculture and industrial goods trade, while discussing the best way forward in future negotiations on services, rules and intellectual property. Ministers, ambassadors or senior officials who meet in the Green Room include the co-ordinators of all major groups in the WTO. This representation ensures that all positions, countries and regions, are represented in the negotiations.

Countries sometimes join coalitions simply to ensure that their specific interests are heard by that coalition or to raise their profile with trading partners. This tactic is possible because participation in most coalitions does not bind the member of the groups to that which a representative or other members of the group agree. Where countries seek an outcome to negotiations, the growing use of coalitions can be seen as advantageous because it can help build convergence among the broad WTO membership by facilitating learning and the forging of compromises

Finally, the growing use of coalitions is seen as a strategy for transforming the exclusivity of the WTO's "green room" process. Previously, closed-consultations included only a handful of developing countries on an individual basis. With the expanding role of coalitions, the composition of Green Room has grown such that key players and others relevant groups are more often represented, making for a more transparent, legitimate and effective consultation process.

However, there are guidelines to ensure that such broad representation always occurs (and there are many small group processes within and beyond the Green Rooms where it does not). Further, important systemic obstacles to effective developing country participation still remain and progress in the extent to which countries benefit from participation in small groups has been uneven. For instance, although some coalitions have improved their internal communication strategies and information dissemination, many such mechanisms within coalitions and their process for ensuring accountable representation remain weak. In addition, not all countries are represented equally in or by coalitions, and so still may lack a significant role in relevant debates.

That's where Britain comes in. Free of the EU we can pick and choose our alliances depending on the sector we wish to advance. Any coalition of developing nations that has Britain joining their cause is a bloc that carries weight in its own right. While we are not by any means a large market in the global sense, we have technical, intellectual and financial clout that is impossible to ignore.

On this blog we have spoken at length about the technical barriers to trade that stand in the way of trading with developing nations. Strategic investment partnerships at the global level are the they to opening up new markets, and more are likely to respect the distinct political and social distinctions than EU trade deals. The EU most certainly does not.

Selecting strategic partnerships is a more agile way to conduct trade and allows for concurrent development projects where Britain can act as a sponsor to coalitions of developing countries, and through its own free trade agreements can act as a proxy, helping developing nations gain access to new markets. We have often made reference to how remittances are the most effective means of developing emerging economies and strategic agreements on loosening of borders with partner nations does more for them than direct investment, and the relaxation of formal border controls in this regard actually helps prevent illegal immigration.

Leaving the EU does not mean an end to European cooperation, nor does it mean we would necessarily vote against the EU at the WTO, but independence at the very least gives us the option to protect our interests and do a better job of international development than the EU could ever hope to.

This way of doing things is also not limited to forming alliances with developing nations. There would be nothing stopping us entering alliances with any number of developed nations. Pick any you like. Cooperation on fishing via the NAFO with Norway and Canada gives us equal clout to the EU, and we can have that while perhaps choosing to ally with the EU against Canada on other matters. Opposition does not defacto mean hostility.

Clearly these global mechanisms do require improvement, but that is more likely to happen with Britain acting as an independent agent, and we can show global leadership in reforming WTO processes, and we can make it more fit for purpose ensuring that we get a better deal than the EU negotiating on our behalf every single time. There are plenty such instances where we have more business interests in common with Mexico and Indonesia than Bulgaria or Portugal.

The vision is one of a global forum where everybody gets a say, and alliances can promote global industries, bringing new partners into the fold, increasing their wealth as well as our own. It is a more modern approach than setting boundaries on an arbitrary geographical basis and nobody loses by industrial sectors advancing together rather than the EU walled garden doing its own thing and shutting itself off from the world.

The deal on the table come the 2017 referendum is to be on a tight leash to the eurozone, continuing to have only a partial voice and limited voting powers at the global level, largely because europhiles thinks we lack clout and that the EU is the only game in town. This is demonstrably untrue and a pretty miserable way of looking at things. In fact, as we see the new treaty consolidating power over the eurozone, it is likely that in financial affairs at the global level, our concerns come second to those of the eurozone. Our chances of protecting the City are slim without the leverage of a veto.

On the other hand, we can leave the EU, retain single market access and engage fully at the global level, partnering with anyone we so choose to bring about a global single market and to enhance those emerging markets that can pull Africa out of poverty. When you look at the two visions side by side, there is not contest. Staying in the EU is to turn our noses up at the opportunity of a lifetime, opting for a sub-optimal status quo that sees us gradually losing influence at the top table as the EU seeks to replace delegations of member states wherever the ECJ says it can.

As we have already examine, there is too much at stake to have all the major decisions made by large, ossified blocs and putting the decision making over our key industries into the hands of bodies who do not necessarily share our interests is in every sense dangerous as well as antidemocratic. Big bloc trade deals are yesterdays news. The future is a global market place of independent actors working together of their own free will rather than entire nations being subjugated to the supranational ambitions of an elite cult bent on building the new European empire.

We need to be heard as a voice in our own right, Europe needs us to do that and so does the world. In this we can show global leadership and perhaps shake the EU out of its stagnation in the process. The EU idea is one dating back to the 1920's, it's gone as far as it can and will find itself increasingly at odds with how things are done in the modern world. It's last hurrah was the creation of the Eurozone region, which will soon act as a single global entity, and while we cannot change that, and will have to cooperate with it, there is no compelling reason why we should be on a leash to it and settle for international obscurity.

It's not just a twist of rhetoric to say that europhiles are little Europeans closing themselves off from the world. That is a real and demonstrable mindset. It really is they who are the dinosaurs standing in the way of progress, and it is their paranoid superstitions and lack of faith in humanity that hold us back. David Cameron's offer of permanent subjugation shows a lack of faith in Britain's abilities to shape the world and asks that we settle for second best - to be part of of a globe where Mexico and Norway have a voice, but the world's fifth largest economy does not. Does that sound like a good deal to you? If you ask me, it sucks, and Mr Cameron can keep it.

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