LAST JULY, former Prime Minister of Barbados Owen Arthur delivered a speech at The Gleaner Editors’ Forum, held at the company’s Kingston, Jamaica office, in which he alluded to the changing economic circumstances facing Caribbean countries and the kinds of adjustments we must make if we are to survive in a rather dynamic and rapidly evolving world.
He said: “There was a time in our history when we were the entities in the developing world that were relatively more open to capital flows. In the ’70s we didn’t have to worry about China [because it was] a closed economy . . . . China is now an open [and] liberalised economy and a lot of the industrial capital that would have come to the Caribbean is now going to China.”
This description of the reconfiguration of the global economic reality with China now a leading player both in relation to the inflow and outflow of foreign direct investment is something that we in Barbados and other Caribbean islands ought to treat seriously because the tight fiscal balances we have recorded in the past five years and our inabilities to grow our economies in a significant and sustained manner do suggest that our countries require a tremendous amount of foreign capital to flow our way.
You see, back in the 1970s, some of our regional thinkers in the area of development economies recognised that the transformation of Caribbean economies ought to have been more internally propelled because the global environment would never be so organised as to be in our favour. Hence, our continued dependence on external considerations such as preferential access for bananas to the European market and foreign aid for developmental purposes could only have been temporary assistance with no long term growth benefits. And so, an approach to our economic development that included the birth of CARICOM became the order of the day.
Nowadays, it should be clear to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that the winds of change that started to blow within our region in the early 1970s with regional integration as the engine that can propel our economies to higher heights ought to have continued and become much stronger in magnitude. But, sadly, that surely is not the case. We have since tried to give momentum to regional integration through the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) but the viability of that institutional apparatus remains in serious doubt. Where are we going in relation to the CSME? Are we at all serious about advancing this initiative for the sake of our peoples and countries? Is the CSME alive and kicking or slowly dying?
Despite all the old talk about our development, about our polititcal independence from Britain and our eagerness to boast and celebrate such great achievements, the fact remains that we in Barbados and the wider Caribbean are much more inventive with respect to possible reasons why regional integration and the CSME specifically cannot and should not proceed as planned.
Debates on this issue range from concerns over xenophobia to the question of sovereignty. While these discussions intensify, we the people continue to experience deteriorating standard of living, poor quality health care, limited access to top class education that is relevant to the needs of the 21st century, high incidence of poverty, rising cost of living, and the list of woes goes on.
But how can we deliver on those fundamentals which are key ingredients to our survival in a dynamic world if we continue to drag our feet on the question of deeper regional integration?