Thursday, October 4, 2012

We need an international view

One area seemingly never raised over successive elections is that of international relations. While our elected government has little direct control over external affairs, owing to our colonial status, Bermuda is impacted daily by global forces; how Government acts to address such challenges has important consequences for the lives we live. 

One of the most important challenges over the past ten years was the threat to our status as an international financial centre as the OECD and a number of regional bodies sought to label Bermuda as a “harmful tax” jurisdiction. Under successive Finance Ministers Eugene Cox and Paula Cox and the unsung efforts of the Ministry of Finance staff, we overcame that challenge and have protected both our global reputation and those companies that do business here.

Further, every time we sign another Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with another country we lay the foundation for enhanced bilateral relations. As an example, one small consequence of signing with Australia is that Bermuda passport holders were able to apply for a visa online, as do British passport holders, and not have to bother with the cumbersome submission of paper documents.

Bermuda’s global interests do not necessarily run in tandem with those of the United Kingdom. A good example of this involves the matter of the four Uighurs brought to Bermuda. Premier Ewart Brown’s bold, controversial and divisive decision would certainly have been vetoed by the UK had they had prior knowledge, but perhaps more important than the humanitarian gesture it was is the geopolitical and economic reality that America matters more to Bermuda than the UK.

And this act served to strengthen our relationship with the United States. As an aside, the current “stateless” status of these four men will no doubt be resolved as soon as the key parties work toward a solution.
One of the constraints on best pursuing our interests globally is that we are only granted a voice with British consent or by taking action surreptitiously. When we are not sitting around the table when our interests are discussed the consequences can be significant. The European Union decision to impose a visa regime on Bermuda is a prime, even if, unfortunate example of this.

In 2006, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office misinformed the European Union that Overseas Territories Citizens of the UK did not have the right of abode in the UK. This was patently false since under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 all Overseas Territories citizens were made British Citizens again, in May, 2002, having been deprived of that status under the British Nationality Act 1981.

On the basis of FCO misinformation the EU imposed a visa regime on Bermudians decades after a former Delegated Affairs Minister, Sir John Sharpe had successfully negotiated visa exemptions. If Bermuda was sitting around the EU table UK misinformation would not have gone unchallenged.

More generally, Bermuda-UK relations will require greater attention in the years ahead as the British seek to develop a new structure to the relationship. There can be no mistaking: this relationship is not based on any notion of equality as the power to decide resides with the British. If there is to be a partnership we are certainly the junior one. As a country we will have to decide if in the pursuit of our economic, political and social interests globally we are encased within the ideal political shell.

Global opportunities abound for Bermuda. They have the potential to strengthen our island in a multitude of ways from live/work opportunities beyond the EU to bilateral investment agreements. Now is the time to broaden our focus beyond 21 square miles and pursue opportunities where and when they emerge.

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