Change has come to the United States, and as usual this means change has come to the rest of the world as well.
The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next US president and vice president is likely to have wide-ranging implications for the Caribbean, and the Virgin Islands would do well to prepare now for the potential opportunities and pitfalls that could come with the new administration.
Perhaps the most obvious shift is Mr. Biden’s message of unity, which provides a stark contrast to the divisive rhetoric and thinly veiled racism of President Donald Trump. Though the US remains bitterly divided, the new tone comes as a great relief for many people of colour in the US and further abroad, including members of the Caribbean Diaspora.
Another cause for celebration is the historic election of a woman of Jamaican and South Asian descent as vice president, which marks a proud moment for this region and sends a positive message to women everywhere.
Policy changes are also in the pipeline. There are major differences between Mr. Biden’s outlook and his predecessor’s, many of which could directly impact the VI and the wider Caribbean.
Most immediately, Mr. Biden is promising much stricter measures to attack the new wave of Covid-19 cases sweeping the US. His proposed strategies contrast markedly with Mr. Trump’s erratic handling of the pandemic, which many scientists have convincingly argued has greatly exacerbated the number of cases there.
For the VI, of course, the expedient eradication of the virus in the US is absolutely essential to the health of the tourism industry. Anything the new administration can do to stem the pandemic would be tremendously helpful on these shores.
Mr. Biden’s administration also seems likely to revisit former President Barack Obama’s plan to relax travel restrictions between the US and Cuba, which Mr. Trump had reversed. Any move in this direction could dramatically reset the tourism landscape in the Caribbean, introducing a new source of competition and potentially luring hundreds of thousands of tourists from VI shores each year. The territory will need to strategise carefully to prepare for this possibility.
Much less frightening for the VI is Mr. Biden’s position on climate change. Mr. Trump — who has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus around climate change — gutted environmental regulations and removed the US from the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, which we view as one of the most important international accords in history. Mr. Biden has promised to rejoin the agreement and to otherwise ramp up efforts to tackle environmental problems, though he has stopped short of promising some of the more radical moves advocated by further-left proponents of a “Green New Deal.”
Given the VI’s vulnerability to the potential effects of climate change — which include hurricanes, rising sea levels, droughts and others — Mr. Biden’s position is good news, and territory leaders should continue to raise their voice on the international stage to help ensure that he not only keeps his word but goes even further in addressing what is surely the most pressing issue of this generation.
The US approach to broader Caribbean policy under Mr. Biden might see a marked change as well. As the US and China have competed for influence in the region in recent years, Mr. Trump’s administration has used bully tactics in an apparent attempt to divide the Caribbean and motivate countries to pick sides. The Obama administration, in which Mr. Biden served as vice president, used a lighter and more nuanced approach, though of course it too always put US interests first.
The territory, then, should consider how to best exploit any likely US policy shifts, while continuing to strengthen regional ties.
For the VI, another important outcome of the US election is something that is not expected to change much under Mr. Biden’s administration. Past US elections — including Mr. Obama’s in 2008 and 2012 — brought concerns about a possible international crackdown on offshore financial centres like the VI. This time around, stakeholders aren’t making such predictions.
Mr. Biden, in fact, hails from Delaware, which, like the VI, does not require the public disclosure of company owners. After serving as a Delaware senator for more than three decades, the president-elect seems unlikely to push the VI and other OFCs to forge ahead with reforms that are not also the standard in his home state.
Other shifts that might come under a Biden presidency are uncertain. But what is certain is that change is coming, and as always most of it will be out of this tiny territory’s control.
What is under the VI’s control, however, is how it prepares to take advantage of any opportunities and to bolster itself against any possible bumps in the road.
It should start now.