Published: 31 Aug, 2021
Many Caribbean countries mark Emancipation in the month of August. Indeed, the CARICOM Community celebrates this historical milestone on 1st August annually. During this time, we reflect on the end of slavery which will forever remain a stain etched on the collective conscience of humanity. We use the remembrance of Emancipation to celebrate the deep and inextricable bonds we as Caribbean people have with Africa. Thus far, these connections have largely remained in the historical, cultural and people spheres. This must change to also include translating our excellent ties into trade and investment relationships that will redound to the benefit of people here in our Region and in Africa.
For those who follow developments in Africa, May 2019 marked the dawn of an exciting chapter in the continent’s continued ascent. It ushered in the start of the African Continental Free Trade Area with a cogent and compelling vision with Africa as one mega free trade area. Just in terms of countries participating, it is already the largest free trade area in the world given the number of states who are members. Africa’s rise is also eloquently illustrated by the data. Whilst the entire world is reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and most countries and Regions like ours showing negative growth, the African Economic Outlook done by the African Development Bank noted that real GDP is expected to grow by 3.4 percent despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Countries such as Mozambique have been receiving record levels of foreign direct investment. Yet, whilst Asian countries led by China have been rushing to Africa, we have largely lagged behind in terms of pursuing an aggressive trade and investment relationship with Africa. The opportunities to partner with Africa and a market of an estimated 1.4 billion people are immense. As we seek to advance an agenda for a resilient Caribbean, it is not only important to shore up existing trade partnerships but to also look to new relationships on the trade and investment front. The world is changing and so must we.
In terms of trade data, according to the United Nations’ International Trade Centre trade map, CARIFORUM countries (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) exported US$249.2 million worth of goods to Africa in 2018 which grew to US$601.4 million in 2019. Though this is a step in the right direction it is still a fraction of what can be realised once we make a concerted push to Africa. The obvious question is then, how we go about ramping up our commercial relationship with Africa.
Firstly, we need to shift from political diplomacy to one that includes a commercial focus giving Africa the priority it deserves. Some progress has been made on this front with the establishment of missions in several African capitals by Caribbean countries. We are also seeing results. Just last month, I participated in the signing ceremony where Caribbean companies Global Integrated Fintech Solutions (GIFTS) and IPayAnywhere (Global) signed an MOU with Nigerian giant TelNet relating to the provision of a range of payment services. What was different about this relationship is that it ushered in a partnership focused on the new economy and not the classic relationship in the trade of commodities. The Barbados High Commission in Ghana played an instrumental role in bringing this to reality hence the emphasis on strong commercial representation. Similarly, the joint mission of CARICOM countries established in Nairobi, Kenya must pursue the same objective with a focus on East and Southern Africa.
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