The Forty-Fourth (44th) Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) takes place in Nassau, Bahamas, from the 15th – 17th February 2023. The meeting will be held under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Honourable Philip Davis.
During their three days of meetings, the region’s top leadership will be navigating a packed agenda.
Issues on the agenda include the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME); Climate Change, including Climate Finance; Agriculture and Food Security; Health, and Reform of the Global Financial Architecture.
Heads are meeting at a time when the world remains upside down in many ways. There seems to be no end in sight to the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the geopolitical fissures, and food and energy security crises exacerbated by the war are worsening. Heads are also likely to be concerned about the growing tensions between the United States (US) and China, and what these mean for the region’s security, foreign policy and economies.
It is certainly good to see that Heads will be engaging with Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, who will participate in the meeting as a special guest.
A few months ago, this column wondered whether the Caribbean could rediscover its place in the world. This was out of a concern that perhaps the region had been de-prioritised by some important players, including traditional partners such as Canada. At the time, Canada had not long before announced the launch of its Indo-Pacific Strategy through which it committed close to $2.3 billion to that region.
Therefore, Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit to the Caribbean demonstrates that the region remains on his country’s radar.
Perhaps Canada can be co-opted to support the region’s fight against climate change, financial blacklisting, and a fairer global financial architecture for small island developing states (SIDS).
CARICOM leaders are also meeting at a time when the region faces many internal challenges. The political and security crises in Haiti cannot be ignored and hopefully, a path can be mapped out to restore some semblance of functionality to Haitian society.
Elsewhere, issues like regional transportation continue to be vexatious ones. The demise of LIAT demonstrates that air transportation ought to be treated as a public good.
The challenge is that the fiscal constraints and competing demands for the states’ coffers mean that the region’s governments will likely be constrained in their capacity to make the kinds of investments in regional transportation, especially air transportation, which are required.
This means that the private sector, including foreign investors, would need to be properly incentivized to enter a market which simply does not have the economy of scale needed to entice the kinds of investments which are required.
The situation with regional transportation is a catch-22. Proper air transport is important for business travel and people-to-people contacts. It will also facilitate even deeper regional integration and make CARICOM a more attractive region for investors.
However, governments lack the resources and investors are perhaps challenged to see how their involvement could be sustainable.
Nonetheless, it is not an impossible situation. Governments can of course coordinate on a suite of incentives for regional carriers, including the rationalization of landing fees and taxes.
Meanwhile, as an initial step, existing carriers can look at the feasibility of consolidation. Much more can be said on this, but at another time.
It should be recalled that the Community, and later the CSME, were shaped in a context when the external environment was very hostile. The regional integration project was seen as providing a buffer for the region against those externalities, whilst helping the region to develop the capacity to better navigate the world together.
Against the backdrop of what is again a hostile global environment, the time is ripe for renewed attention to unlocking the region’s industrial and agricultural capacity; creating the conditions for a near seamless integrated market for firms; strengthening the Community’s institutions and creating a space which is even more conducive to the social and economic development of all the region’s peoples.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development. Email: [email protected]