Tuesday, 03 May 2011 02:36
By Dr Isaac Newton
Antigua St John's - With a novelist’s touch, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer conveyed more errors than trials that defined his approach to the World Trade Organization (WTO) conflict over cross-border betting and gambling services.
The PM’s rhetoric stood for something much larger. He did not communicate a high regard for the dispute’s complexities. Having neglected the many tributaries of the river, Spencer implied that the US hindered peaceful negotiations. He emphasized equity, setbacks, struggles, and economics instead of explaining why his actions turned spider webs into steel walls.
The current status of the WTO dispute reveals that Spencer paid inadequate attention to shared success than a win-lose arbitration outcome. The PM’s review of the course of actions which finally forced his government into cardiac arrest, was rather telling. His speech neither invited the people’s sympathy nor excused the government from mishandling the matter. It alluded to gaps in execution and obvious deletions.
Perhaps the government may re-visit the WTO conflict by glancing in the rearview mirror to re-evaluate its past behaviours. Likewise, it should gaze through the windshield to better determine how to move forward. If the government confuses glancing with gazing, its past will become its future, and its future will mimic its past.
Rearview Mirror Glance
By detailing what his administration did, Spencer chose not to mention what he did not do, or what he could have done better and differently. He should have calculated the social, economic, and diplomatic consequences of an extended fight with the US. Apparently, a legal solution didn’t take into account the complications of a risk-burdened process.
Isn't it unfortunate that Spencer now seeks the advice of local stakeholders, only after he secured an economic loss via a legal victory? If the PM is going to empower the people, he cannot forget to include the sharpest of them in problem-solving discussions.
It would have been more helpful on the front side of this conflict to consult with local stakeholders. They might have made recommendations to avoid intensifying a costly approach that yielded failure after failure. But looking at Spencer’s leadership style, if funds were still available, the PM would have continued to rely on the fallacy that excellence is imported.
It took financial disaster and multiple failures for Spencer to listen to local talent. Notice, however, that the PM was only willing to listen if local professionals provided free advice.
Perhaps for reasons of good sense, if not for goodwill, Spencer should have made meaningful attempts to sit with members of the former Antigua Labour Party (ALP) government, which had initiated the WTO challenge. By concentrating on the value of hunting for external experts, and not on the success of fishing for homegrown talent, the United Progressive Party (UPP) missed the boat.
Consultations with the ALP may have yielded critical intelligence; intelligence no doubt that would have led to an understanding of the particular kinds of action already taken, and what was working and not working. Without appearing weak-willed, Spencer could have used this data appropriately before moving forward.
In addition, Spencer needed to have clarified what was the latest action taken by the US. A comprehensive understanding of the criteria required for determining minimum demands and compromises was vital. Taken together, these facts would have put Spencer in a better place to negotiate a reasonable settlement.
That Canada, Japan, Cost Rica etc became third parties to Antigua & Barbuda's fight at the WTO and settled with the US speaks volume. I suspect that these countries had similar issues. But they settled with the US on Antigua & Barbuda's coattail, while the PM and his cadre of advisors were left out in the cold. How Spencer dragged the country through a back door victory but ended up with front door loss, he never explained.
A keen observer will conclude that it couldn’t be the US's fault alone, or the US would not have exercised care and precision in settling with Canada, Japan, and Cost Rica. Windshield Gaze
The WTO dispute cannot be pursued with a mindset of mutual hostility. Neither the US nor Antigua & Barbuda could capitalize on the benefits of co-operation if both are unwilling to break from feelings of distrust.
Unless the government shifts the focus to mutual advantages, the PM will continue to cry foul, but will be denied the gold. Given that power imbalances and national interests trump morality when playing in the big leagues, it is not wise for the PM to take re-negotiations off the table.
It is necessary to ask: What went so tragically wrong with Antigua & Barbuda's approach to these proceedings? What are the US's primary concerns? Is there clarity over the US’s unspoken needs? What is the magic key to unlock this conflict? And, what is obscuring the underlying causes that spurred the dispute in the first place?
The PM now needs to assemble a team of experts skilled in crisis intervention, negotiation, international trade, foreign policy, cross-cultural capital, sustainable development, and finance. Tasked with the singular agenda to resolve this dispute, the team will have to examine past strategies and be empowered to take strategic decisions to get the job done.
The best way to settle international disputes is to manage agreements in ways that address nagging differences, facilitate mutual opportunities, and identify shared obligations. With adequate information and competencies, the team should measure the momentum for win-win collaboration.
Team members should be fair but firm, diplomatic but assertive, and reasonable but open, in deciding on what type of reciprocating strategy is needed to re-engage the US.
But the notion that Antigua & Barbuda is being treated unfairly because of our small size is silly. Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards came from a small village in Antigua but applied his brilliance and skills to cricket. He was the most devastating batsman of his era. What is increasingly clear is that Antigua & Barbuda did not take the time to master international diplomacy and high level negotiations.
For example, in an article entitled: “AG Blames Toothless WTO,” (Caribarena online newspaper), Attorney General Justin Simon said that the WTO failed to implement its own ruling. Would not all the sound reasoning of Simon give rise to grasp the institutional limitations of the WTO?
If the government went into the WTO dispute with this element of unawareness, I could see why it was ill-prepared to handle reality effectively.
It is worth remembering that third party countries resolved their disputes with the US with the same challenges of enforcement that typify the WTO’s operational scope. Perhaps Canada, Costa Rica, and Japan were able to put together relevant competencies to achieve better results.
I don’t know if anyone sought to uncover the type of successful strategies third party countries employed to settle with the US. This may produce critical data that could help the UPP arrive at a good settlement.
The WTO dispute does not have to end again with Antigua & Barbuda’s symbolic win, but substantial loss. Both Antigua & Barbuda and the US must take risks and clarify differences in perceptions. Both parties must decide on the terms of settlement and on mutual intentions and interests.
Although consulting local talent is a good start, Spencer’s past actions might have changed the playing field. The PM can regain credibility by bringing his behaviors in line with the principle of mutual gain. With the right thinking, right team, and right strategy, Spencer will not have to experience the same disappointments by the end of his tenure.
The WTO dispute offers Spencer a historic opportunity to reform himself in the face of changing realities. In this respect, Spencer could unleash more practical and creative thoughts until he discovers marvelous light.
Dr Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.