United States President Barack Obama has warned Barbados and other Caribbean countries to check for any strings attached to aid and investment coming from foreign countries, including his, which he admitted had not always played by the rules.
Addressing the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (WUI) during a one-day visit to Jamaica for a special summit with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders, Obama said with the US and China in a bidding war for the hearts of regional governments, leaders had to ensure the assistance being offered has long-term benefits for the masses.
Before turning the spotlight on his own country, Obama expressed some concerns about China’s investment campaign in the region.
“If China is making investments that are building infrastructure, improving education or helping the people, then we welcome that; we think that is great. The only thing is you’ve got to make sure you look at what strings may be attached,” the American leader said in response to a question from one of the young people in the audience.
The president contended that if, for example, the investments were made solely to build a road to a mine to extract raw materials to be shipped to China, and if Chinese workers were being imported to build that road and the deal that led to that Asian country getting the contract was unclear, then that could not be in the long-term interest of the receiving country.
“By the way, I would say the same thing about the United States. If we came in with an aid package to your country and we say, ‘we got this great deal and we are going to give you $100 million for such and such’, but when you evaluate the actual benefits it’s US companies that are disproportionately benefiting and . . . creating a situation in which, over the long-term, the United States is making a whole lot of profits but is not leaving behind a sustainable industrial base for ways in which that country can develop, then you have to evaluate and try to get a better deal,” Obama suggested.
The US leader also insisted that all CARICOM governments should be transparent in dealing with foreign investors, clear about what they are getting, and accountable with regard to how the money flows.
He argued, too, that there should be a sense that regional businesses, and economies as a whole, must benefit over the long-term.
“So there is like a bidding war going on here for affections. Chinese are giving us flowers, chocolates and ‘what are you doing for us lately?’ And so what I would say is this: the United States, I think, historically, has been an enormous provider of development aid. Not always, by the way, has it followed the rules I just laid out as to whether or not the local recipients are benefiting but I think we have got a little better at that,” he said.
The American president noted that when the World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions were taken into account, the US remained the largest contributor of aid and investment by far.
Obama pointed to Haiti which was decimated by a series of natural disasters as one example of the American contribution to development.
“Turns out we are doing more than our fair share and we will continue to do that,” he said.
Obama said that while the US remained by far the most powerful country, things had evened out around the world in terms of economic wealth.
The US president arrived in Jamaica last night and left less than 24 hours after meeting in closed-door sessions with regional leaders, including Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
He promised aid for clean energy projects for the region, as well as a fund for the Caribbean’s young people.
Obama flew out of Jamaica tonight to head to Panama for the Summit of the Americas that is also being attended by Stuart.