CELAC and foreign policy projection
The World Around Us
February 3, 2023
CELAC and foreign policy projection

On a few occasions, I have lamented the prospects for small states to advance their interests in global affairs. Due to their smallness with respect to geographic size, population and economies, small states are not the ones that first come to mind when thinking of global power brokers. 

Of course, there are small states which have made an impact on global affairs far beyond what their size would suggest. In the Caribbean, Jamaica and Barbados can be mentioned in this vein. Elsewhere, countries like Mauritius also punch above their weight. 

When St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) successfully campaigned to become a non- permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC) a few years ago, this was largely seen as a major coup not just for the country, but for small states more generally. Here was a little known country with an ambition to assert itself in international affairs in a manner that far outweighed what its size and resources would have suggested it was incapable of doing. Nonetheless, it was a timely reminder that international influence was not the sole domain of the large and powerful countries. 

More recently, St. Vincent and the Grenadines again achieved another diplomatic coup, this time successfully vying for the presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Its predecessor, Argentina, is a country with a population nearly five hundred times that of SVG’s, and an economy that is at least a thousand times bigger. 

CELAC, according to its own website, “is an intergovernmental mechanism for dialogue and political agreement, which includes permanently thirty-two countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.” 

CELAC, which was launched in 2011, has focused on areas such as social development, education, nuclear disarmament, family farming, culture, finance, energy and the environment. CELAC also has a broad framework of cooperation with China, which is now firmly a global power, under the auspices of the China-CELAC Forum. 

By presiding over a body such as CELAC, whose membership comprises of over 30 countries and over 650 million people, SVG has a unique opportunity to lead decision making and serve as a power broker both within and outside this body. It is also an opportunity that can work to the benefit of the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM) bloc.

Over the years, partly because of name recognition due to their active engagement in international affairs, small states like Jamaica and Barbados have been able to extract concessions in a wide range of areas. For instance, it is not out of the ordinary for their nationals to occupy prominent positions in major international institutions on a regular basis. 

Furthermore, when small states like Jamaica and Barbados speak up, their words have a significant amount of currency, as has been the case in recent times when Prime Minister of Barbados, The Honourable Mia Mottley, speaks. 

A couple weeks ago, the World Bank approved US$100 million in financing to support Barbados’ low carbon economic development and resilience to climate change. In late January, Barbados as the only CARICOM country thus far, joined the United States led Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP). Among other things, APEP aims to strengthen supply chains, trade and investment, as well as deepen cooperation in areas such as human rights. 

These kinds of developments cannot be divorced from the kind of goodwill that comes from active and constructive participation in global affairs. 

As SVG projects a much more active foreign policy posture, the country stands to gain a tremendous amount of goodwill which can ultimately redound to concrete developmental outcomes. Furthermore, small states such as SVG cannot afford to resile from advocating for themselves especially in an era of fractured multilateralism, geopolitical contests and attempts to remake the global order.

Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.
Email: joelkmrichards@gmail.com