Strengthening CARICOM/Africa Relations
By Elizabeth Morgan
As the discussions on foreign policy in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) continue, the region is looking to improve relations with Africa through the African Union (AU). Modelled on the European Union (EU), the AU promotes Africa’s growth and economic development through increased cooperation and continental integration. The AU Commission is headquartered in Addis Abba, Ethiopia and the Commission Chairperson is Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad since 2017. The AU has 55 Members with Morocco returning in 2017. The President of South Africa, H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa, will assume the AU Chair for 2020 at the 33rd Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Addis Abba, February 9-10.
During 2019, discussions on CARICOM/Africa cooperation made progress as the Presidents of Ghana and Kenya visited the region, and, following on other visits to African countries, the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Barbados attended the 9th ACP Summit in Nairobi. CARICOM leaders will have another opportunity to visit the continent when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is held in Kigali, Rwanda, June 22-27. It is reported that CARICOM is planning to convene a meeting with the AU this year.
Relations between CARICOM and African counties, of course, date back to the time of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade resulting in the African diaspora in the Caribbean. Prominent Caribbean nationals have contributed to the evolution of Pan-Africanism. Ghana, during its 2019 Year of Return, promoted closer cooperation with the diaspora. To further encourage diaspora engagement, the University of the West Indies (UWI), in November 2019, announced the establishment of the PJ Patterson Centre for Africa/Caribbean Advocacy.
In the United Nations, through the years, CARICOM and African countries collaborated on matters, such as decolonization, anti-apartheid advocacy, and proposals for a New International Economic Order. Countries also collaborated in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and in the Commonwealth.
CARICOM countries have diplomatic relations with many countries in Africa. However, only Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago have resident diplomatic missions in South Africa and the last two in Nigeria. Jamaica had an embassy in Addis Abba from 1970-1991. In the CARICOM region, Nigeria and South Africa have missions in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Morocco also has an embassy in St. Lucia which opened in 2015. A number of CARICOM countries have been strengthening their relationship with Morocco for more than a decade. In December 2019, we learnt that CARICOM will be opening a diplomatic office in Nairobi. Barbados may be opening one in Ghana.
Between 1998 and 1999, an attempt was made to forge closer cooperation between CARICOM and the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC). The Chief Executives should have met annually from 2000 and a framework for cooperation developed. I found no evidence that these meetings continued thereafter. I have also seen no evidence of similar cooperate with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Trade between the CARICOM and African countries is weak. Figures seen for 2017, estimated that CARICOM countries exported US$449m in goods and imported US$258m. Jamaica’s Grace Kennedy Group operated in Ghana from 2012-2018 and the Republic Bank of Trinidad and Tobago has a subsidiary there. There has been energy interest between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria. There are no trade agreements between CARICOM and African regions or countries. Through the ACP, efforts were made to promote intra-ACP trade, which remains an objective. There are discussions on promoting intra-Commonwealth trade which came to attention with the UK’s 2016 Brexit decision.
Through the AU, African countries, in 2018, signed the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area aimed at boosting intra-Africa trade and creating an African Customs Union.
In 2020, Africa is expected to continue having some of the fastest growing economies in the world. If it can achieve political stability, increase trade and stimulate growth in large countries, such as Nigeria and South Africa, the African continent, with its youthful population, has great potential. Major economies, China, EU, UK, Russia, are interested in the continent.
There is much work to be done in promoting trade and investment between CARICOM and African countries, such as addressing air and maritime transportation, visa requirements, increasing cultural and educational cooperation, improving ease of doing business, and exploring trade in services including tourism.
Let us see whether the CARICOM/AU meeting materializes and a framework for enhanced cooperation can be developed and sustained.
Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics