Potential for business between CARICOM, Africa ‘tremendous’ – CARICOM Secretary-General

CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett, addresses the first AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum in Barbados, 1 September 2022
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CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett, said Thursday that there’s need to strengthen and streamline the infrastructure to support trade between Africa and CARICOM, as she pointed to the “tremendous opportunity for expansion and deepening of trading relations.”

The Secretary-General was at the time making remarks at the opening of the first AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum in Bridgetown, Barbados. The theme of the three-day event is ‘One People. One Destiny. Uniting and Reimagining Our Future‘.

“… to grow trade and investment flows between our Regions, we need to strengthen and streamline the infrastructure to support Africa-CARICOM trade. This includes air and maritime distribution and transportation channels. We need to move to establish a Multilateral Air Services Agreement between African countries and the Community. 

“Using this Forum and other mechanisms, such as our mutual membership in the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), we can continue to promote and forge business-to-business contacts through networks of private sector organisations, and business development support organisations, such as our own Caribbean Export, which is our regional trade and investment promotion agency,” Dr. Barnett said.

Please read the Secretary-General’s remarks below:

The First CARICOM-Africa Summit held on 7 September 2021, opened a new chapter in the deep-rooted and strong relations between CARICOM and Africa.  It set in motion various initiatives to further deepen and strengthen relations between the African continent and the Community.  In particular, the Leaders underscored the need to foster increased trade, investment, air travel, and maritime shipping links, with a view to realising greater economic integration and enhanced people-to-people contact between Africa and the Caribbean.

Here we are, one year later at the first AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) 2022 in beautiful Barbados.

I wish to congratulate Prime Minister Mottley and the team at Invest Barbados and Export Barbados for leading this effort, in collaboration with the AfriEximbank and partners, including the CARICOM Secretariat.

I wish to extend thanks in particular to the Government and people of Barbados for the warm hospitality and excellent arrangements put in place for this event. We really do welcome all of it.

Much of what defines our Region has roots in Africa, which is the “ancestral home” for many Caribbean nationals. Nations in CARICOM and Africa have cooperated at the political level through the struggles of decolonisation and independence, and through the anti-apartheid struggle. Our political cooperation has laid a foundation on which we can and must build a new trade and economic partnership that promotes mutual development and prosperity.

The task is not an easy one; CARICOM and Africa’s trade and investment relationships are slowly emerging from the patterns that were embedded in our colonial arrangements which have carried over into our post-colonial economic realities.

We must reset these systems and foster real South-South cooperation. This AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) 2022 is an important first step. It will build bilateral cooperation and promote trade, investment, technology transfer, innovation, tourism, culture, and other services. The potential to do business together is tremendous.

The market represented by the African Continental Free Trade Arrangement is set to reach 6.7 trillion US dollars in value by 2035.  Merchandise trade within the CARICOM Single Market stood at 2.2 billion US dollars in 2018, and with decisive steps taken recently to reduce non-tariff barriers, especially in agriculture, we expect further growth in the period ahead.

We are working to strengthen productivity and overall trade performance with a push to transform our agricultural and industrial sectors.  Our 25 by 2025 agriculture initiative already is gaining momentum. We are promoting investment in agriculture, including through the two excellent Agri-Investment Fora and Expos that have so far been held, and we are backing this up with decisive actions to address trade barriers and promote productivity across the Region.

Work has started on an industrial policy that will complement the positive steps underway in agriculture. In the area of services, the Region is a strong performer, especially in sectors such as travel, tourism, and financial services. There are real opportunities for investment and trade across all those areas.

Consider that in 2018, total CARICOM exports to the world amounted to 18.6 billion US dollars, with total exports to Africa of only 815 million US dollars. CARICOM exports to Africa therefore represented only 4.4 per cent of its exports totally.  In that same year, CARICOM’s imports from the world stood at 33 billion US dollars, with imports from Africa of only 603 million US dollars.  Africa therefore accounted for approximately only 2 per cent of our total trade.

This trade, that was in 2018 before the Covid-19 pandemic caused a sharp decline, is starting to trend back up in 2021 though at only 538 million US dollars.  The top exports to Africa include, anhydrous ammonia, alumina, oil drilling tubing and material, sauces and condiments, frozen orange juice concentrate, with Morocco, Ghana and South Africa being the main importers from CARICOM. The top ten imports from Africa include – LNG, vehicles, barium sulphate, bitumen and coriander seeds, with the main sources being Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco.

Clearly there is tremendous opportunity for expansion and deepening of trading relations.

But to grow trade and investment flows between our Regions, we need to strengthen and streamline the infrastructure to support Africa-CARICOM trade. This includes air and maritime distribution and transportation channels. We need to move to establish a Multilateral Air Services Agreement between African countries and the Community. 

Using this Forum and other mechanisms, such as our mutual membership in the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), we can continue to promote and forge business-to-business contacts through networks of private sector organisations, and business development support organisations, such as our own Caribbean Export, which is our regional trade and investment promotion agency.

We at CARICOM look forward to concluding the Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretariats of the Caribbean Community and the African Union to strengthen collaboration to support this process.

In addition to the opportunities provided by the CARICOM Single Market, CARICOM offers a gateway to partner markets. Our preferential trade agreements with several Latin American and Caribbean neighbours, as well as others, provide significant market access opportunities for investors producing within CARICOM for those markets that represent a combined 11 trillion US dollars in imports of goods and services at this time.

With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the CSME presenting solid platforms for trade and economic cooperation between our two (2) Regions, I am anticipating that this first – and I say first as there will have to be a second and a third to continue this activity – AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum will be a success.

We at CARICOM are determined to advance our Single Market, and extend our trade and investment arrangements to drive trade and economic growth, and look forward to deepening further our partnerships with our friends, neighbours, brothers and sisters in Africa.

I thank you.

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