The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has signalled its interest in working with China to ascertain how its goals and priorities can be best linked with existing, new and emerging development initiatives from the East Asian country.
Foreign Ministers of the nine CARICOM countries which recognise the People’s Republic of China met with their Chinese counterpart, Mr. Wang Yi, on Sunday, 21 January, 2018, in the margins of the CELAC-China Forum (CCF) Second Ministerial Meeting that took place in Santiago, Chile, on 19-22 January, 2018.
In remarks at the meeting, Chair of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados, Senator Maxine McClean, underscored the importance CARICOM attached to the existing Caribbean-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum, and the Caribbean-China Consultations. The latter was held in May 2016, and is expected to take place again later this year.
Describing those consultations as “valuable mechanisms for continued dialogue and cooperation,” she said the Community also saw the One Belt, One Road initiative China announced in Santiago, as a “very important cooperation and development mechanism.”
“We look forward to working closely with China in ascertaining the best means of linking the opportunities arising from the initiative to the Community’s own development goals and priorities. These include, for example, regional transportation, renewable energy, and strengthening our disaster management capacity,” the COFCOR Chair stated.
She said CARICOM also attached importance to the CELAC-China Forum and believed that a number of projects could redound to the benefit of all members of the Community from the Action Plan for 2019-2011.
Noting that sustainable development within CARICOM was challenged by peculiar exposures and vulnerabilities unique to Small Island Developing States, she said there was need for a “new paradigm in development finance.” This was critical for CARICOM to realise its economic and social development aspirations.
“We need the international financial architecture revised urgently to take into consideration the developmental peculiarities and vulnerabilities of SIDS,” she said, adding that the Community’s ability to rebound from the ravages of natural disasters is impaired by the graduation of some of its economies from access to concessionary development finance, due to the use of per capita income as the primary eligibility criterion and non-incorporation of their peculiar vulnerabilities.
“Concessional development funding is essential for the building of economic and climate resilience to serve as the platform for our sustainable development,” she noted as she urged the Chinese Foreign Minister to relay CARICOM’s concerns to his colleagues of the G20 and to the heads of international financial institutions. Adding that the Region had also benefitted from China’s generous grant funding in the past, she said it hoped that consideration would “continue to be given to this valuable means of development support.”
Minister McClean expressed the Community’s appreciation to the Government of People’s Republic of China for demonstrating its understanding of CARICOM’s unique challenges by generously donating US$30M at the High-Level Pledging Conference which CARICOM and the United Nations hosted in New York in November 2017.
The Chinese Foreign Minister, in his remarks, noted that the achievements of Caribbean-China cooperation was evident in infrastructural developments including roads and hospitals, visa waiver agreements that facilitated increased Chinese tourist arrivals to the Region; conclusion of extradition treaties; an increased number of Confucius Institutes; capacity-building for CARICOM nationals through training workshops and scholarships; and people-to-people exchanges.
Presentations by CARICOM Foreign Ministers underlined the importance of meaningful and transformative projects for all CARICOM Member States. They also highlighted the importance of grant as well as concessional funding to underwrite selected projects.
Minister Yi noted CARICOM’s development challenges outlined, as well as the comments, proposals and cooperation interests put forward. He expressed China’s willingness to support issues such as climate change and disaster relief, and to deepen bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas.
In respect of the latter, he urged the submission of projects, and noted that good projects led to growth and development. Specific needs should be put forward through the various Chinese Embassies, he said, and pointed out that the Belt and Road Initiative was “a new proposal for economic cooperation that had been warmly received and recognised by over 100 countries and had become a most popular public good.”
Latin America and the Caribbean should not be left out, he said, and added that apart from the availability of financial resources, participation in the cooperation initiative provided access to the huge Chinese market. To this end, he said China was organising an “import fair” later this year.
In addition to the cooperation opportunities arising from the CELAC-China Forum, CARICOM and China affirmed their commitment to strengthen existing CARICOM-China cooperation mechanisms including the Caribbean-China Economic and Trade Forum, the Caribbean-China Consultations process and to a new mechanism, a standing meeting in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly.