Letters & Opinion

African EXIM Bank’s CARICOM Outreach and South-South Trade Reversing the Middle Passage?

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Saint Lucia has joined its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners in embracing the African continent, with wider eyes on new prospects for better South-South trade and cooperation.

On January 17, the island’s parliament passed an act to give legal effect to an agreement for Saint Lucia to join CARICOM’s partnership with the African Export Import Bank.

That follows an agreement signed in Barbados in September 2022 to access US $3 Billion for Caribbean development and to further South-South Cooperation between Africa and the Caribbean, where millions of enslaved Africans were shipped to in centuries-old worst criminal trade in humans the world has known, through the Middle Passage of the Great Triangle.

The agreement came to a symbolic start with an initial direct flight to Barbados by Ethiopian Airlines and Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali signed a few days later in a ceremony at the newly upgraded Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA).

Last year’s original agreement with the African EXIM bank was also signed by Guyana and Barbados and it came one year after the region’s government leaders and their African counterparts held the first CARICOM-African Union (AU) Summit on September 7, 2021.

That summit was one of the very first attended by PM Pierre after his party won the July 26, 2021 Saint Lucia general elections.

He told the island’s parliament earlier this week the agreement to join CARICOM’s initiative to enhance South-South cooperation was important to his administration, as it opened the way for the island to broaden its trading partners and terms of trade, beyond the traditional realms.

PM Pierre, in his statement, also publicly asked the Minister and the Ministry of Agriculture to examine the possibility of importing better and more affordable chicken from Brazil.

The African continental bank’s three billion US dollars, properly used, will allow the Caribbean to not only reverse the Middle Passage in the 21st century, but also to enhance more trade on better terms within and between CARICOM nations, as well as with their neighbors in Central and South America, which are also more interested today in working-out better South-South trade ties.

Guyana, Surinam and Brazil are already engaging in building better trade ties in everything from energy to agriculture and food security, sharing approaches to better handle their natural resources, from gold and diamonds to oil and gas and forestry products.

Their sheer size, as resource-wealthy neighbors, allow these three Caribbean and Latin American nations to cooperate at levels different from the majority small islands (from Jamaica to Trinidad & Tobago) that comprise CARICOM’s long island chain, including The Bahamas, Haiti and Dominican Republic, as well as Belize in Central America.

The African EXIM bank’s resources will also help the smaller islands and CARICOM’s majority non-oil economies to not only develop their traditional agriculture, tourism and manufacturing sectors, but also to engage in new bilateral and multilateral initiatives to together enhance food security, better health and housing, as well as new approaches to old problems that have hindered Caribbean trade and economic development for much-too-long.

Unfortunately, trade between Africa and the Caribbean has been much-too-minimal — almost non-existent – and just like the Europeans found ways to enhance their lucrative slave trade despite the oceans of distance separating the three points of their Great Triangle, the reversed 21st Century Middle Passage, in this age of Smart Business and The Internet of Things, can also be made to work for Africa and the Caribbean – and the South.

Centuries of trade dominated by and with Europe (more recently overtaken by Japan, the USA and other G7 nations) have crippled the African, Caribbean and Latin American regions, just as the Asia and Pacific regions; and the current global economic conditions have made everything worse for all.

But as the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) have both revealed in their 2022 annual reports, the Caribbean and Latin America are feeling the worse ends of the global energy and food price increases in the post-COVID era; and small nations – particularly islands – are also feeling the brunt of the continuing Climate Changes, even though contributing the least to the causes.

With the world heading into a record second recession in less than the first quarter of the 21st Century and Europe and North America suffering climate and weather tragedies and disasters earlier thought to have been exclusive only to the South, the international multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are admitting that during the three years of the COVID pandemic, the world’s rich got fabulously richer — and the poor only got poorer, famine following food shortages and price increases causing even more hunger in the richest nations.

As a result, international charities like Oxfam now have the backing of United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres in calling on governments in Europe and G-7 nations to impose windfall taxes on multinational corporations that have for decades not paid fairer shares of taxes on their lucrative businesses, from oil and gas companies to digital hi-tech firms.

Global terms of trade must necessarily change, but the speed will not likely be in the interest of developing nations, which is why the African EXIM bank’s outreach and CARICOM’s embrace are to be supported — and governments and private sector companies accessing it expected to make fresh starts in terms of how they approach both North-South and South-South trade.

New times call for new approaches and this has been quite clear to the Saint Lucia PM, who said on Tuesday evening: “We are neighbors to the Americans and friends of the North, but we also have to embrace the South… We have to look South, because we have no choice today!”

Meanwhile, Guyana is also deepening it’s South-South outreach by entering into new agreements with Brazil, China and India, three members of the BRICS alliance that also represents more than half of humanity.

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