R. Rose
November 17, 2006

Selling us short, betraying our trust

Over the past two weeks I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in two events, one international, the other local, which have great relevance to the future of our country, its people and our path of development.

On November 6, the British Foreign office, acting on the initiative of Prime Minister, Tony Blair, hosted a Conference on Investment in the Caribbean. One week later the National Investment Promotion Incorporated (NIPI) staged the official launching of its National Export Strategy.{{more}}

Both are commendable initiatives. In the case of the London Conference it is clearly a reaction to printed criticisms from Caribbean quarters, official and non-official alike, about the virtual dumping of the Caribbean by the European Union (EU) as far as its major exports to the EU are concerned, using World Trade Organization (WTO), rules as a cover. Worse, at a time when the region is under heavy pressure to negotiate a virtual free trade pact with the EU (never mind the deceptive title of Economic Partnership Agreement or EPA as it is more popularly known), neither sufficient compensatory resources for the loss of trade nor adequate assistance with adjustment costs are forthcoming.

So Britain organized the Investment Conference, aiming to connect prospective investors with Caribbean entrepreneurs and governments in the hope that some lasting connections would be made. Looking at it from that angle, it was certainly a worthwhile step forward. To what extent it will have positive and lasting impact on investment and development in the Caribbean depends largely on the follow-up to the Conference.

Similarly the launching of a National Export Strategy and the move to involve the private sector and civil society in it is most laudable. Again our follow-up on recommendations and commitments and the degree to which we are able to transform ideas into practical programmes will greatly influence the outcome. In particular, the National Export Strategy must have real linkages with other critical policy areas, especially those relating to the basics – a sound Food and Nutrition Policy, policies on wages and prices for instance – as well as being part of an enabling environment.

One sad feature which seems to occur time and again is our tendency to drop old friends when we pursue new ones, and even to neglect the bone for the shadow. In this regard I especially refer to an acquired mindset among too many of us to adopt an “Either/Or” approach to development strategies. We do not seek to enhance or improve, yet keep that in which we are experienced, but set out willy-nilly to abandon all we have developed as we choose new initiatives. The best example of this is our attitude towards agriculture. Yes, this is a problem area, but it is the fulcrum of rural development. It not only feeds us and provides income and employment for thousands; it is also very important to our environment, physical, social and cultural well being.

As we seek more and more to become more service-oriented, we run into the trap of being conned into believing that there is no room for agriculture in our new supposed “service economy”. Everything else, from the computer, to hotel complexes, from call centers to consultancies, seem to have a place in this new future of ours, but not food, farming nor fishing. In the London Conference, one of the UK-based Caribbean diplomats even had the gall to pointedly suggest that agriculture should not be a priority in our new scheme of things. It is we ourselves, even more than EU officials or WTO trade bosses, who are pronouncing our own death sentences.

Without even taking the pains to examine new areas where we can use our comparative advantage, without vigorously seeking to lower production costs and re-orient production and marketing strategies, we are giving up, hoping to find some promised land. What do we then do with the thousands left abandoned in our rural communities? How would we feed the tourists and new service-providers? What would be the relevance of Food Security to national development strategies?

It is this poverty of the spirit, barrenness of mind and feebleness of will that is causing the Caribbean to surrender internationally. Those who are paid to defend, promote and advance our interests are SELLING US SHORT. Those entrusted with negotiating our future are BETRAYING OUR TRUST. It is happening with banana, a crop on which there has been a virtual sell-out by Caribbean officials and most governments. It is happening with the EPAs.

Our people cannot remain silent in the face of such suicidal behaviour. Those who come in to pressures will be the first to abandon us, our farmers, our rural women and children, and seek greener pastures should push come to shove. We must demand that they either STAND UP for our future or GET OUT from our first lines.