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Reflective Commentary Social Work

There are several interpretations to the concept of globalization, certainly not because of the obscure meaning of the word and the vagueness of its intent, but primarily because its differing effects in different countries and on different industries have been varied. The stark reality is that the concept of globalization whilst having a well conceived interpretation/definition, the interpretation applied to it is often times conditioned based on the perspective of the individual relating the story. For example, proponents of globalization consistently speak of and accentuate its benefits, whilst opponents unflinchingly highlight what they regard as its catastrophic effects. There is I might add, a third group which interprets/defines globalization as inconsequential not only to the average John Doe, but also small developing countries e.g. the islands of the Caribbean. This subject matter of its impact on small developing countries and their ability to survive will be addressed shortly. For now however, I propose to proffer a commonly accepted interpretation/definition to the concept of globalization, simple put, it is refers to as a world without borders. In fact, very often terms such as ‘global village’ and ‘cross border linkages’, are used synonymously if not interchangeable with the word globalization. ‘Disintegrating national borders, coupled with the liberalization of trade and finance in today’s “Global Village” also have fostered an increase in cross-border corporate mergers and the number of multinational corporations’. [1] 

In the decades of the recent past, there was a view that what was commonly being referred to as globalization and the concept of a ‘disintegrating national borders’ was simple a reincarnation of the concept of westernization. However even if this was so, with the advent of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the phenomenal growth being experienced by the economies of these countries, particularly India and China within the last several years, the notion of the two concepts (globalization and westernization) being one and the same, has been totally disproved. In fact, if similarities are to be drawn between westernization and globalization the most prominent commonality between them would be that of dominance of the global marketplace, albeit at different times in history. The dominance of the global marketplace, as in the case of China for example, has everything to do with their population size, quantity of output or quantity exports, it attaches truth to the saying that ‘size does matter and too big is a plus’. With globalization benefiting the larger countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas - where does that leave small developing countries in this space now referred to as a single market. In other words - Can small developing countries survive in a globalized environment?

Define Small developing countries:

In response to the question, this author proposes to use SIDS, that is, Small Island Developing States, of which the United Nation has identified fifty-two and of which all of the member states of Caricom are part, to crystallize the point that ‘little fishes can survive in big ponds’ or in other words, that small developing countries can survive in a globalized environment. The examples I will advance to support the argument will be two islands in this region, both with minute similarities and yet many miles of differences.

While there is no internationally established definition for small developing countries or Small Island Developing States, this grouping does have an internationally accepted identity, which came about in 1992, as a result of the Alliance of Small Island States. These SIDS are identified based on specific criteria or benchmarking done by international agencies such as the United Nations and/or the World Trade Organization. The common thread that exist between these countries are among other things – Their small physical size , which in effect means smaller domestic markets, smaller quantities of output an and smaller quantities of exports. Their geographical locations, which may put them at a disadvantage from attracting for example foreign direct investments (FDI). Their Pelagic formations, which mean that as a consequence of them being islands, with the attendant water which surrounding them, there may be for example reef or other naturistic features of the ocean, which must be environmentally protected. In addition to the afore-stated challenges, small developing countries also have to contend with high a degree of importation; for example they may not be able to produce all that they consume as a country, a high degree of openness, that is, susceptibility to being exploited to by larger countries, thereby sometimes making sustainable development a challenge and a degree of defenselessness against natural disasters. All of these common challenges experienced by SIDS contributes to their vulnerability and therefore make them acutely susceptible to adverse external shocks.

Notwithstanding the challenges faced by SIDS, Trinidad and Tobago, a small developing country nestled as the most southerly of the countries of the Americas and the Caribbean, has emerged as a prime example of how small developing countries can survive in a globalized environment. An island of a mere one million three hundred thousand inhabitants, bounded by one thousand nine hundred an eighty square miles of space, as far back as 1998 more than a decade ago, was described by Larry Rohter of the New York Times as an ‘economic tiger in a sea of pussycats’. [2] This comment came at a time when the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a major macroeconomic indicator was at $38,065.1 million United States (U.S.) dollars, which incidentally had literally doubled from ten year prior. Mr. Rohter’s observation/statement also came at a time when the country’s unemployment figure stood at 14.2 percent compared with 22 percent ten years prior and the direct foreign investment (FDI) attracted in that year, 1998, was $4,596.3 million U.S. dollars or four billion five hundred and ninety-six million Trinidad and Tobago dollars, That figure reflected an increase of over one thousand percent when compared to the $241.8 million U.S. F.D.I. realized in 1988. David E. Bloom and his writing colleagues in their Occasional Paper entitled –Globalization, Liberalization and Sustainable Human Development Progress and Challenges in Jamaica; noted that ‘the increase in F.D.I. … flows in 1998-99… matches the trend … Jamaica’s performance has not been as impressive as that of Trinidad and Tobago’. [3] 

Indeed Trinidad and Tobago’s movement towards globalization involved several mild stones over the years, among them the decision in the early 1990’s to engage in trade liberalization; this effectively meant that importation restrictions were dismantled; and concomitantly decisions were taken to reduce the duties to be charged on imported products. These policy shifts were complemented by a decision to establish a floating or a more realistic rate of exchange against the U.S. dollar. [4] Whilst the challenges faced by SIDS are undeniable, fact is, they are not insurmountable. Individually or separately SIDS may not be able to meaningfully impact negotiations at institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), but there is a school of thought which suggest that collectively they may be able to exercise more leverage taking into account their collective market size or market share. For example, Trinidad and Tobago even though small in size, is the world’s tenth largest exporter of natural gas, i.e. 21 billion cubic meters or almost two percent of the estimated total world natural gas exports. [5] Translated into leverage, this means that Trinidad and Tobago through its main market, the United States of Americas may lobby and obtain support for specific areas of interest in trade negotiations.

To further supports the argument that small developing countries, for example Trinidad and Tobago, can survive in a globalized environment the macroeconomic indicator of this country’s trade balance will now be examined. In 1998, using the year that our economy came in for special mention, our trade balance reflected that total exports were $983 million U.S. dollars and our imports stood at $977 million U.S, that is, a surplus of six million U.S. dollars. Comparatively speaking just one decade earlier we were realizing a trade balance deficit of $-393 million U.S dollars and although in this current decade the surplus has evaporated and we are realizing deficits once again ($3,191.8 million U.S dollars in 2009), we have been making serious attempts to reverse the deficit trends. [6] However, we are also cognizant of the fact that with globalization economies are no longer self-contained, but they are becoming more and more interdependent or more integrated economic systems. Thus the issue of trade is not one way and trade agreements involves reciprocity, as such in our expectation and quest for additional markets we have also become exposed to greater importation of more and more foreign goods and services.**

Thomas Friedman’s, ‘The world is Flat’ refers to technology as the platform for globalization. In his book, he advances that through the use of technology countries/businesses/industries can compete, connect and collaborate to ensure economic integration or internationalization. [7] Without a doubt technology has been one of the vehicles through which the concept of globalization has become a reality. In fact, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, a small developing country, information technology has helped to ensure that our geographical location does not put us at a disadvantage. It is to the credit of information technology that investors and potential investors can interface with us from any part of the world and thereby make informed decisions as to investment opportunities in this country; in short technology has helped to advance our competitiveness. In addition to this, we on the other hand, in our bid to source new markets have not been constrained by language barriers or time zones differences; that is because information technology has helped to bridge those divides. But what of the disadvantages the anti-globalization movement may highlight. Disadvantages such as the negative impact that globalization may have on the environment, its negative impact on employment because of greater automation and low wages, or even their concern about shifting economic power, for example from the West to Asia with specific reference to China, who in the view of many still has not embraced democracy. While its perceived or potential disadvantages ought not to be simple dismissed, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago globalization has positively impacted our local economy. The Central Statistical Office’s figures for the fourth quarter of 2007 revealed that this country had achieved full employment; this is obviously attributable to several factors, among them – The large number foreign direct investments being attracted by this country- The large number of markets that we have established outside this country, for goods and services produced inside our borders – And our ingenuity in creating new industries, example the cottage, the music, the theatre industry etc.)

The second SID/Caricom country I propose to use to further my view point that small developing countries can survive in a globalized environment is our neighbors on the north eastern of us, Barbados. An island of approximately two hundred and eighty thousand people and a land mass with an area of one hundred and sixty-six square miles, encircled primarily by pelagic formations (coral reefs), this island unlike Trinidad and Tobago has no natural resources, but like Trinidad and Tobago is a global player among many. Thus the reason for my earlier analogy that ‘both islands have minute similarities and yet many miles of differences’. Barbados’ economy is based principally on the niche market which they have and which they now almost perfected, their product being a tourist destination. In other words, they have marketed their sand, sea, sun in a way that makes them particularly attractive to Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Caribbeaners seeking down time. Their GDP for financial year ended 2007, stood at $5,313 million U.S. dollars and per capita for the said year, it stood at $18,800 dollars. As a small country they can boast of an impressive sixty-seventy place GDP per capita ranking, well ahead of countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and BRIC nations such Brazil, Russia, India and China. In addition to this, they are a mere ten points behind Trinidad and Tobago’s ranking, which in 2007 had a GDP per capita of $21,200.00 dollars. Barbados’ employment statistics for 2007 whilst high by Trinidad and Tobago standards, 10% compared to 5.0%, was significantly lower those countries such as India and Turkey. Furthermore, in the 2010-2011 World Economic Forum Report on Global Competitiveness, the author tell us that Barbados topped the Caribbean Island by placing forty-third among one hundred and thirty-nine countries in its competitiveness. Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica also small developing countries of Caribbean placed a distant second and third coming in at numbers eighty-four and ninety-five respectively. [8] Thomas Friedman having identified technology as the platform for globalization referred to education as one of its pillars, and so it was way back in the 1980’s when Barbados began its movement towards ‘education from nursery to tertiary’. This effectively ensured a system of free education access to all citizens of the country. Today several decades later, in this globalized environment, the country is reaping the rewards of its education drive and decision, because it is a deemed by those in the know, as a global player. Trinidad and Tobago, while starting its ‘nursery to tertiary’ drive some time later i.e. the mid 1990’s, it has made successful strides and as indicated before is well recognized for its worth in the global environment.

There is no doubt that size has its implications and in the context of a country those implications may be disadvantageous, recognizing this situation the issue was raised at the level of the World Trade Organization and this lead to the Doha Ministerial Declaration 2001. However, since that time very little has been done on the subject matter and it is fair to say that even thought global institutions such as the WTO, who has responsible of policing and regulating trade in the global marked, makes rulings such as between Antigua Barbuda and the United States of America, exploitation of countries/industries and individual continue. This is even more evident when trade agreements between developed and Least Developed Countries (LDC) are examined. The Barbados Programme of Action sought to argue that SIDS should be treated as special case for sustainable development, but to date neither the larger developing nor the developed countries have taken any sustained corrective action to give effect to the principle of BPOA. In the face of this SIDS continue to experience challenges from and as a result of their many international commitments for example their obligations to the I.M.F and the World Bank.

In conclusion, the evidence as to the continued existence or survival of small developing countries in a globalized environment is incontrovertible. In my respectful view the examples of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados are particularly relevant and incredibly compelling. It is a fact that the notion of globalization requires governments/regulators in small developing countries to be ultra vigilant, ensuring that they engage the best minds to hammer out the best trade agreements possible. A country’s attractiveness to investors and their overarching competitive edge must be supported, by among other things- the existence of the technological platform which as stated by Freidman is the impetus for globalization or a license to be a player in the global market. All of the pillars for this platform must be present and operating in sync to create the best outcome for the country as a whole. The pillar of education must be strategic, long-term an unbending; the pillar of infrastructure, though a difficult prospect for developing countries, must be deliberate, enduring, and logical and the pillar of good governance must be democratically oriented, people centered and accountability driven. Whilst in the case of both Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados we have not scored full marks on an absolute of all of pillars I humbly proffer that among all of the small developing countries in the region our two islands are the closest to achieving that objective and therein lies our attractiveness and competitive edge.

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