Spotlight on the Caribbean
The World Around Us
June 16, 2023

Spotlight on the Caribbean

On 8th June, vice president of the United States (US), Kamala Harris, met with leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Nassau, The Bahamas. On 13th June, Jamaica was the second stop of a months-long global tour by the World Bank Group president Ajay Banga. Both developments have several significant implications for the Caribbean in terms of strengthening ties and addressing regional challenges.

Vice president Harris confirmed that strengthening the US-Caribbean relationship was a priority for both her and President Joe Biden. She asserted that meetings between the US and Caribbean leaders have proven to be very important and essential to the strengthening of these relationships.

The vice president touched on several key issues which are of importance to the Caribbean, such as the existential threat of the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, clean energy infrastructure, access to development financing, security as well as the political, economic and security crises in Haiti. Interestingly, vice president Harris also invited the World Bank president to address the meeting virtually.

Speaking of the World Bank president, he began his five-year term as World Bank Group President on June 2, 2023. Beginning his global tour in the Latin America and Caribbean region, first with a stop in Peru, then a visit to Jamaica, demonstrates that this part of the world is high on his agenda.

The World Bank has described Banga’s tour as part of a broader effort to reimagine strategic partnerships and deepen the relationships between the World Bank Group and the countries it serves. In general, his engagements with countries and institutions on this tour are seen as an attempt to write a “New World Bank Group Playbook”.

The World Bank has come in for multiple criticisms over the years. It has been criticized for attaching policy conditions to its loans and assistance packages which critics argue may prioritize economic liberalization, austerity measures, and market-oriented reforms, that can have negative social and environmental consequences in borrowing countries.

Critics also contend that the decision-making power within the World Bank is disproportionately held by a few powerful countries, particularly the US. This concentration of power is seen as undermining the representation and voices of smaller and developing nations in shaping the Bank’s policies and priorities.

Against this backdrop, Banga’s global tour can be viewed as an attempt to bridge the trust deficit between the Bank and some of its most critical stakeholders and beneficiaries. It is also a major opportunity for the Bank’s stakeholders and beneficiaries to contribute to re-writing the Bank’s rules of engagement in a manner which is more reflective of their core interests and concerns.

The challenges facing the world are many, varied and interconnected. Climate change, poverty and inequality, conflict and security, governance and democracy and geopolitical tensions all have far-reaching implications for global stability, development, and well-being.

Engagements between Caribbean leaders and powerful figures, such as the US vice president or the president of the World Bank can provide meaningful avenues to better position the region to navigate global and regional challenges.

In her meeting with CARICOM leaders, vice president Harris announced that the Biden administration was pledging an additional US$100 million aid package for Caribbean countries to fight gun crimes and tackle climate resilience. The vice president also announced that prior to her meeting with regional leaders, she had met with Banga to inform him that the US will lead a diplomatic campaign on multilateral development bank reform.

Caribbean countries have been at the forefront of calling for the reform of the global financial architecture, including significant reforms to the governance arrangements and modus operandi of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Of course, as still the world’s single most consequential country, US leadership is important in these and many other areas of endeavour. However, the voices of small and less powerful countries cannot be ignored.

Both Harris and Banga have shone a spotlight on the Caribbean in recent weeks. Hopefully, the region will capitalise on this to ensure that its interests are inserted in the places where they belong.

Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.