President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Gene Leon is disappointed with the slow pace of regional leaders towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He proposed that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) takes a resilience model and more holistic approach to achieving sustainable development, adding that this model should be driven by knowledge and innovation.
At the same time, Dr Leon believes that regional Integration must become a major part of Caribbean governments’ quest for development and prosperity, with a strong focus on intellectual property protection.
The CDB president was the guest speaker at the inaugural Owen S. Arthur Memorial Lecture on the topic Re-Designing Economic Growth Strategies. The event was hosted by the Shridath Ramphal Centre (SRC) for international trade law policies and services.
“Progress towards the SDGs has been disappointingly slow, hindered in no small measure by natural hazards and economic shocks arising from vulnerabilities related to small size, export concentration, openness and geographic location. It has been further compounded by a less than adequate urgency in strengthening institutions and implementing policies,” said Dr Leon.
He also acknowledged the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on economic and social development in the region, pointing out that the effects were most harsh on the most vulnerable.
“I am also concerned that inequitable access to online education during COVID could have lasting effects on poor households with the exclusion from online learning contributing to a slower accumulation of human capital. These developments, no doubt, will further impede the region’s already slow progress towards the attainment of the SDG’s,” he said.
In fact, Dr Leon said while the impacts from the pandemic have been felt immediately on the region’s ability to achieve some of the SDGs, the Caribbean should brace for long-term effects on others due to delays in the formulation and implementation of policies.
“Consequently, the effort required to attain pre-pandemic levels, not just real GDP but across the dimensions of development, will require significant resources and time. While these circumstances might be somewhat unsettling and uncertain I would argue that we should seize this moment to unleash those opportunities that have been dormant and to redirect elements of our economies for a rebound that is sustainable and resilient.
“This rebound should be shaped by our history and informed by the peculiarities and needs of our diverse peoples. It should leverage the untapped creativity and resources we possess in pursuit of our re-imagined future. What I am calling for is a re-imagined model of regional development which can bring us closer to the achievement of the SDGs, recognising that our economies routinely encounter multiple setbacks,” he explained.
While urging regional leaders to make sure their short-term policies were in sync with their long-term policies, Dr Leon said his vision was to see a post-COVID Caribbean that was driven by knowledge and innovation, anchored on resilience and regional integration.
“Knowledge combined with innovation increases our chances to react to change both positive and negative and to discover new opportunities. This becomes the basis on which we can contemplate the new paradigm which Arthur envisaged,” he said.
Dr Leon said governments needed to ensure several steps were taken to lower the cost of doing business and to improve the conditions for cross border trading and investment.
He also called for a “radical shift” in the region’s education structures to support innovation.
Insisting on the full implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, Dr Leon said “governments must be willing and prepared to put the requisite national policies in place”.
Zeroing in on the areas of trade facilitation and knowledge governance, he said these were pivotal areas for “crafting a new paradigm” for our region.
In relation to trade facilitation, he argued that there were too many deficiencies and lack of harmonisation in current trade practices in the Caribbean especially in the area of agriculture.
In relation to the creation and sharing of knowledge, he said the region had the potential to capitlise on intellectual property rights through framework and other supporting structures.
He argued that the current intellectual property environment may be an obstacle hampering knowledge diffusion and innovation and resulting in little development in entrepreneurial ideas.
“Reform to the intellectual property framework is therefore critical to provide a multiplicity of functions including assisting entrepreneurs to advance new ventures to transform their innovation potential and foster increased competitiveness, enabling access to key knowledge markets and network and facilitating access to capital,” said Dr Leon. (MM)