More than anything Caribbean governments could have done, or failed to do, global economic developments are a significant cause of the region's predicament. Let us not forget that global circumstances and forces beyond their power and control, as well as events and developments in which they have no fundamental stake, can rock the foundations of these developing states.
In recent years, globalization and trade liberalization, spurred by rapidly advancing technology, moved to center stage, with promises of progress and development for all. Trade was to be freed up; markets were to be opened; new mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization were to supersede the old regional or common-interest groups through which we had previously worked. New terms of trade were to replace such existing systems as regional preferences for agricultural products. Many were the promises made.
Experience has shown that in a world that has become a global village, power, influence and prosperity is disturbingly unequal. Open markets have benefited the economically strong, as have many of the rules of the WTO; the Free Trade Area of the Americas is beset with conflicting interests, again of the major players. In the meantime, we see investments move out of the Caribbean region to areas of lower costs, as the prices of the region's commodities fall and its efforts to diversity into financial and other services are challenged. To the costs of keeping up in an increasingly technological and knowledge-driven global economy, Caribbean countries must add many unanticipated costs. Continuing efforts to counter the illicit drug trade, the trade in small arms and light weapons and the need to step up security measures to combat international terrorism, for example, add significant new costs to national budgets. At the same time, levels of official development assistance continue to sink to new lows.
The manner in which governments continue to forge ahead in the face of significant odds is very much to the credit of the Caribbean peoples, and very typical of the region. Modernizing government is a priority: making it easier and less costly to do business; enhancing the efficiency of the bureaucracy and streamlining procedures; training and equipping youth to function in a knowledge-based economy; seeking more and better market information to enhance markets access and moving away from reliance on one major export to look for new niche markets, for example in tourism and financial services, are key.
There are other things Caribbean countries must do. They must produce more goods, and goods of greater variety. They must consume more of what is produced internally and regionally. Most urgently, they must, in innovative ways, develop new export products that use the goods and services the region has, and stimulate demand for these goods and services. I am pleased to say that Caribbean countries have realized some successes. Now, we need cooperation to translate important victories into further progress.
Building capacity is critical to the further growth and development of the Caribbean. CACCI (the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry) could intensify its efforts to forge strategic alliances between businesspersons and entities in the Caribbean and in the United States. An essential part of this effort would be to provide information to assist Caribbean businesses and persons to understand and access markets in the United States.
We are all aware that it is not governments that trade, but companies. CACCI should therefore seek to have its position reflected in the strategies and policies adopted in international trade negotiations. Agreement on business friendly measures that take into account the circumstances of the countries of the Caribbean would facilitate both CACCI's efforts and long-term investment in the region.
CACCI can also assist by encouraging and promoting the cooperation and collaboration necessary to assist Caribbean countries in addressing critical social issues such as illicit drug trafficking, HIV/AIDS and crime. These matters also profoundly affect development in the Caribbean.
Our Caribbean peoples are known for their industry and ingenuity. We have proven that we can and will compete where there is a level playing field. We need action and practical measures that will ensure that we can achieve our long-term goals and objectives.
Mr. Hunte, president of the 58th session of the United Nations' General Assembly, is minister for external affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation of St. Lucia, and chairman and chief executive of the Julian R. Hunte Group of Companies, an insurance, real estate and packaging and storage conglomerate in St. Lucia.
The views expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Network Journal.
By Julian R. Hunte