The Commonwealth’s Deputy Secretary General, Deodat Maharaj, has raised concern that the Caribbean has not yet established a solid presence on the global trade market.
He addressed the issue at a joint trade initiative of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, the European Union (EU), the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Francophone Organization, held at the Accra Beach Hotel this week.
According to him, the region accounted for less than half of a per cent of world trade in 2013, a decline in the figures for 2009.
“When we look at the data, in 2009 or so the Caribbean accounted for around 0.75 per cent, or less than one per cent of world trade and the numbers keep declining. So, in 2013, the Caribbean accounted for 0.48 per cent, or less than half of one per cent of world trade.
“And if you take away Trinidad and Tobago, the oil and gas producers, the Caribbean now only accounts for 0.24 per cent, or less than one quarter of one per cent of world trade,” Maharaj told reporters.
He said the agriculture sector, a traditional income earner, has been on the decline for too long to have any significant impact on the economies of Caribbean countries, and the region now needs to focus on developing its human resource capital.
“The future of the Caribbean will not be based on commodities. We’re too small to mass produce and compete with larger countries in Africa and Asia and indeed in Latin America. The future of the Caribbean, I think, would lie in us becoming knowledge economies, focusing on the digital economy. The future of the Caribbean is tapping the ocean space and focusing on blue growth and blue economies,” Maharaj stated.
He noted that while the traditional crops are important, the region needs “a cogent and compelling vision” to transition to other sectors.
“Africa, they have done it; they have a strong version called Agenda 2063: the Africa we want by 2063. I think in the Caribbean we need to use a similar template,” the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General said.
“And on the issue of agriculture, the Caribbean is one of the most food insecure regions on this planet. The average age of a farmer in the Caribbean is 55 years old. So we need to produce and grow food but the future has to be different, where it is more technology driven rather than just labour driven: How do we use the available technologies to transform agriculture, how do we find niche markets to sell our exports so people can have a life that can help them advance human development?”
He added that the Commonwealth Secretariat continues to focus on trade as a strategic development pillar, and advisers have been working with several regional agencies in that regard.
“So I think what we need to do in the Caribbean, with integration being a driving force, is to come together and come up with a vision that is cogent, that is compelling, focusing on the new economy and tapping into the magnificent resource that we have,” Maharaj said.