Every four years, like clockwork, our readers’ thoughts turn to an event in the United States of America that could affect our own lives and the well-being of our nation. That is, the US presidential election and the prospects for our country and our neighbourhood, depending on who gets elected (or, re-elected) as the President of that country.
Why are we so concerned about a political process in a country that is located on the far side of the Earth? Because, the US of A is, still, the world’s single most powerful country and the one that leads the powerful political and economic bloc of countries that dominate world affairs and have done so for at least the past 150 years. Sri Lanka suffered considerably under this domination although, in the post-colonial era, this bloc of former colonial countries has made amends through development aid and other support.
The Sunday Observer, today, congratulates Donald John Trump on his ascension to the executive presidency of the United States and wishes him and his country well, during his term. That President Trump won convincingly in the formal Electoral College process and lost convincingly in the popular individual vote count is not immediately relevant to us, except in appreciating the wonderful, complex, precision of the American electoral system and its strict observance by American politicians. We hope that our own politicians take note.
What concerns us, here, on this side of the globe, are trade, economic aid and investment, and political relations with the US. Individual Sri Lankans with eyes on greener pastures and those who need to travel to the US on business or education will also be concerned about future US immigration policy under President Trump.
President Trump’s persistent and consistent election campaign ‘motto’ of “America first” was, significantly, also the main theme of his Inauguration speech on taking the oath of Presidency, on Friday. Already, in numerous campaign speeches and internet ‘Tweets’, the new President has outlined several things that he would or may do in putting American interests ‘first’.
Several policy pronouncements, echoed in President Trump’s Inauguration speech on Friday, hint at possible changes in trade policy, immigration procedures, foreign policy and, foreign investments by the US capital.
His constant refrain of protecting American jobs by stricter regulation of imported goods will, if intensively implemented, affect exports to the lucrative US market by other countries. However, Sri Lanka’s exports to the US mainly comprise goods – such as apparel, tea – that are not likely to see import substitution within the US itself and hence, are not as threatened. New US trade restrictions could close the US market to us if we plan to develop industries that export goods – such as vehicles, electronics, heavy manufactures – affected by that new US trade regime. But Sri Lanka is not immediately going down this particular track of export industry expansion.
It is likely, however, that US immigration laws will be tightened, especially, from countries and regions perceived as detrimental to US security. Given the rhetoric of the new US regime, tighter immigration policy is likely to especially affect predominantly Muslim countries, and also from countries with bad records of illegal migration.
If religion-based selectivity begins to be practised by US Immigration, then individual Muslims, irrespective of their nationality, may find their access to the US more difficult. This may affect not just potential migrants but all those who want to travel to the US on business, tourism and for education, or even transit US cities on their way elsewhere. Fortunately, for Sri Lankans, our rapidly developing world today offers alternative destinations for all these purposes.
The tourism industry will not have worries over new US policy except if the Trump presidency further antagonizes various violent forces in the world to the degree that worsens the risks of Americans travelling abroad or to any particularly volatile region.
The US foreign policy under President Trump is likely to see the beginnings of a tectonic shift from the past, American dealings with the rest of the world and this is clearly signalled by Trump in his Inauguration speech. It is a shift from the previously outward-looking America to an inward-looking one.
This may help those in other countries whose depredations have attracted American political pressures and manipulations. But, people and governments of countries trying to repair the effects of such depredations may find that a more reclusive USA, a one-time champion of good governance and democracy, may not be readily available with support.
In Sri Lanka, as we struggle to meet the burden of enormous debt, crippling nepotism and immense corruption left behind by the Rajapaksa regime, we may find that previously cherished American support for all things democratic and pro-democratic may wane just when we need it.
Again, trade protectionism and new US governmental incentives for domestic investments as against foreign investments may change the global economic environment in ways that reduce US investments overseas, especially in non-priority regions and countries. Sri Lanka is fortunately in a newly emerging world where there are now many centres and networks of global capital to which we can look for investment.
Our own, new, middle-income country status, must be seen as a good foundation for us to strike out more on our own, rather than continue to depend too much on any single bloc of countries for support for our endeavours. If we succeed, President Trump, the global entrepreneur that he was, will be among the first to congratulate us. His clarion call to his people should be echoed in our endeavour to put ‘Sri Lanka first’.