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Global AFrica
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By Kenton X. Chance

NASSAU, Bahamas (CMC) – Director General of the St. Lucia-based Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Didacus Jules, says it is time for the Caribbean and African regions to wean themselves away from the dependency on foreign aid and begin to look towards trade for their development.

Jules told a panel discussion as part of the 31st Afreximbank Annual Meeting (AAM2024) that is taking place here alongside the Third AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF2024) that aid is not the basis of prosperity.

Jules, along with Albert Ramdin, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Suriname and Jamaican Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, shared the Caribbean perspective on the topic “Towards An Afri-Caribbean Free Trade Agreement: The Pathway to Self-Determination”.

“… we, as new post-colonial societies, have been weaned on this basis of expecting aid and seeking aid. But trade is really the basis for prosperity,” Jules said in his virtual contribution to the discussion as bad weather had prevented him from travelling here.

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He said that the current value of Africa-Caribbean trade stands at approximately US$1.5 billion and “of the total exports of CARICOM countries which amount to 18.8 billion, Africa’s share only represents about 4.4% of that.

“So just in terms of the opportunity to change the geopolitical and economic nexus, there are huge opportunities in there,” Jules said, noting that the importance of political will has been emphasised repeatedly.

“But beyond the political will, and from the interventions made before, we can see that there’s a great deal of painstaking work that needs to be done to put in place the architecture and the machinery that will enable this thing to work smoothly.”

Albert Ramdin
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Suriname, Albert Ramdin.

Meanwhile, Ramdin told the panel that with all the fragmentation of “the strength of multilateralism, or even maybe the weakness of it, and the failure in many instances, we need to seek to work together.

“There is no other choice, in my view,” he said, adding that an “almost natural position” to take is that Africa and the Caribbean should work together for different reasons, including political relevance.

“It is important that we share common positions and we can express them in different fora,” including at the United Nations and in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union.

He noted that Africa and most of the CARICOM region share a cultural, historical heritage. “And I think that must inspire from a policy, political perspective that collaboration should underpin that”.

Ramdin also called on the two regions to be realistic in this endeavour to reach a free trade agreement, noting that both regions have undertaken their respective integration effort.

“Being realistic, the challenge, the devil, in these instances with free trade agreements, is in the detail,” Ramdin said.

“Often we see a great perspective and a willingness at the political level but when you come down to the technical level, you get into obstacles,” he said and identified a need for political will.

“Political will to remove obstacles to trade trade barriers is not an easy task. We can see that within the CSME(CARICOM Single Market and Economy)  itself and in other trading relationships which we have,” he said.

“So we have to translate the political will into also the technical results-oriented approach to find solutions to those.”

But Coke-Hamilton, cautioned that a free trade agreement is not a magic bullet.

“We’ve negotiated many. In fact, the Caribbean could teach you how to negotiate. We negotiate an agreement every other month. We’re very good. We know what we’re doing,” the International Trade Centre Executive Director said.

“The issue is the implementation and the utilisation of that agreement. And that is where the rubber meets the road.”

Pamela Coke Hamilton
Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, Pamela Coke-Hamilton.

She said that in the context of a free trade agreement, Africa and the Caribbean need to build in very specific and targeted sectors that would actually be utilised.

Coke-Hamilton said her agency’s research shows that there is a potential for US$1.8 billion in trade.

“But we’ve also gone down to the sectors that have the most potential. That’s metals and minerals, paper, wood products, transport and Tourism, of course, and food processing, huge issue,” she said, noting Jules’ comments about the creative industries.

“But what is more critical is that we begin to drill down on the actual numbers, on the tariffs and non-tariff barriers between our regions.”

She said that Africa imposes an 81 per cent tariff on Caribbean rum.

“Why would you guys put 81 per cent on our rum? You guys don’t make rum?”, Coke-Hamilton said, pointing to Africa and the Caribbean beginning to “drill down at the tariff line level, and also drill down at the non-tariff barriers, and then finally, looking at the issue of logistics”, which is the other big problem between both regions.

“How do we manage the logistics and create volume? Make them want it to work,” she said. 

In his comments, Jules said that  “building that trade using the opportunities that we see”, joint ventures, investment in green and resilient economy and identifying the strategic sectors are important

“We keep asking ourselves, what is the way to optimally insert ourselves in this trade arena, and we believe that the creative economy is one of those sectors that perhaps involves the least engagement but has the greatest opportunity,” Jules said.

“Tourism is another one,” he further said, noting that the closest points between Africa and the Caribbean is Senegal and Antigua, a distance of about 4,000 kilometres (2,485 miles).

“The nearest air link from Africa to the Caribbean, goes through Europe and it is through, I believe, Brussels, and it is what 12,000 kilometres,” Jules said.

“So right just from that statistic, we can see the opportunity for really establishing direct links,” he said, adding, “We will see a big boost in the cruise industry in the Caribbean.

“Why don’t we look at establishing our own cruise lines? African cruise lines jointly owned with the Caribbean traversing directly the Atlantic open up huge opportunities for tourism. And tied to that tourism is the cultural affinities and possibilities and the growth of the creative economies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ramdin emphasised a need to connect the private sectors in Africa and the Caribbean, making reference to the ongoing ACTIF2024..

“Maybe next time it should happen in Africa and bring the Caribbean private sector to Africa because we need to learn from each other much more. But we need to connect the private sector because there are great opportunities,” he said.