Quietly, with very little fanfare, an important blow was this week struck for both the regional integration experiment and our homegrown economic recovery.
We have waited a decade for the Government of Barbados to reawaken to the reality that all our fortunes are inextricably linked to the 15-member Caribbean Community, its Customs Union, Single Market and functional cooperation institutions. Half of all that we make is sold in CARICOM.
At a time when the former mother country teeters on the brink of self-imposed oblivion as it wavers on the question of exiting the European Union, the import of events here could not be more telling.
For Barbados to forge ahead with strengthening economic, cultural, and functional ties with fellow CARICOM nations, from the Bahamas in the north to Suriname in the south, has demonstrated a nation once again engaged with neighbours in a spirit of pragmatic cooperation, amity, shared interests and common destiny.
Such has been the case over the last two days in particular with the convening of a bilateral commission with Suriname, which lay fallow ever since it was formed 14 years ago. The joint commission holds the promise of significant trade and commerce, educational opportunities and in time, travel and tourism – through the portal of agriculture.
It is a fool’s errand to continue to pursue wealth creation from ever-shrinking tracts of land with the disappearance of thousands of acres of arable estates in Barbados.
Through the CLICO farmlands debacle, the encroaching of middle-income and upscale housing developments on former estates, and the exit of sugar cane planters from the scene, Barbados has to look now to drawing down from a more well-endowed land bank in order to leverage mass production of farm produce.
Suriname offers opportunities where there were none before to ramp up Bajan black belly lamb, corn and sorghum production through pilot projects that may prove essential to maintaining food security at home.
This is the business end of Caribbean integration, working to feed Barbadians and boost our industrial capacity, while saving scarce foreign exchange. But in this joint commission’s activities can be seen the possible fulfilment of a more ancient promise – of a big brother being the breadbasket of the Caribbean. Traditionally, this mandate had fallen to Suriname’s neighbour, Guyana. And the generous offer still stands for Barbadian businesses and farmers to buy property and engage in Guyanese joint ventures.
Now comes Suriname, which offers its own unique cosmopolitan flavour to our table, with African, Indian, Javanese and Dutch influences. It remains now for Barbadian investors, averse as they have been in good times and bad to throw in their lot with new ventures, to take up the challenge and opportunity that Suriname presents.
Over the last three decades, a series of one-way free trade agreements, joint venture arrangements, trading relationships and land offers have been made available by South and Central American nations to Barbadian business.
Far too often, the very business community that laments the paucity of investment capital inflows, failed time and again to put its money where its mouth is, content instead to sell off its assets and walk away with the dividends.
It is ironic that so many Barbadians complain of the encroachment of Trinidadian capitalists for taking advantage of a business community’s very Barbadian myopia. This must now end.
Two governments offer a chance for Bajan agriculture to once again come good. We would do well to heed their call.
Now the mechanisms must be found to empower not only larger companies, but small farmers, ordinary investors and would-be processors and consumers to go, taste and see all that is good in the bounty of the Surinamese land and seas.