Economist Avinash Persaud is eager to see the Caribbean region getting back to the days of favourable economic performance and job creation though, he says, greater unity was needed in several areas to spur economic activity and growth.
Persaud, who is the Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Commission on the economy, is also urging Barbadians and other Caribbean nationals to cash in on the growing digital sector.
He also announced that the region seemed to be inching closer to the creation of a single data roaming charge, pointing out that there needed to be “rules on the cost of data flying between countries”.
“Governments have been in discussions with the two biggest telecoms companies. This is part of using muscular regulations to try and help create a market. If we really want to do this through a single space, it has got to be cheap to move data. So we need to tell our telecoms companies, ‘if you want to have a licence to operate in our region one of the quid pro quos are we are not going to let you lose money, but there needs to be some standardization, a single data roaming charge’,” he said.
“Actually, the telecoms companies, to be fair to them, they have received that with a certain amount of welcoming. So I think we are not far off that goal,” Persaud told a webinar session on Thursday, held to examine aspects of the extensive CARICOM Commission report.
He said the report, based on work carried out since late 2018, cites a number of practical things that could be done using technology, including trade.
He said one of the conclusions of the commission was that there was a need for a single digital space in the region.
“We have an opportunity, once-in-a-generation opportunity to have COVID behind us and say we can be a single digital space that we can sell and buy goods across the Caribbean online. The world is already moving there,” he said.
“That opportunity that we may have had to be a manufacturing exporter has gone. We have to be a global services exporter for the world. We have to sit at home or model offices and export professional services down a fast, broadband connection. If we do that we would be on track with the way the world is, but we wouldn’t be dominating. We would be a good consumer of this new global digital world,” he added.
He said for the region to become a great producer in this new global digital world, governments needed to “play a role” by helping to support the creation of some markets where we are big producers.
He said there was also need for “mutual recognition for our qualification”, adding that the Commission recommended the establishment of a board that would go through all the different things in which we can establish a minimum standard.
“As long as countries are exceeding that minimum standard… we believe that can operate not just for things like professional qualifications, but things like financial conduct rules,” he said.
Pointing out that the money spent on importing accounting, IT and other software for national insurance schemes and other similar agencies would easily surpass $1 billion. This is money, he said, that could easily be spent in the region.
He said while it could be argued that individual countries did not have a big enough market for software developers, app developers and coders, he maintained that if we go as one group and had annual prizes for coding and apps, “we might be able to create an industry that could then be global”.
“This is saying, let us take the market we have and organize it in such a way that it actually supports local producers and let us use prizes and other things to help ignite the ingenuity of our people,” he recommended.
The commission also called for the creation of “a new type of digital contract”, said Persaud.
“So here I am working in Barbados and selling my goods to Jamaica. Where does the Jamaican firm that I am working for contribute its national insurance payments, to Jamaica or Barbados? There are agreements on where the allocation of taxes is, but we don’t have agreements on the allocation of social security benefits,” he explained.
He expressed disappointment that the region suffered several setbacks after enduring favourable economic performance between the 1960s and the mid-1980s, saying that while some challenges were unavoidable including natural disasters, others were not, including the dismantling of preferential trade agreements.
“So from the mid to late 1980s [to] now we have been underperforming and we are now the region with the greatest indebtedness; we are now the region with the slowest growth and we are now the region with some of the highest non-communicable diseases, a public health disaster out there,” said Persaud.
In addition to the need for a digital revolution, the extensive report also pointed to the need for energy independence and sustainable building.
The main aim of the CARICOM Commission on the Economy is to provide advice on implementable solutions and priority areas to return CARICOM economies to a path of sustainable growth and development.