There could be a chartered flight between Bridgetown and at least one African nation in the coming months, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has announced.
At the same time, President of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) Professor Benedict Oramah, who said there could also be a routine service within the next five years, pledged financial support for the establishment of a regular air link between the two regions and indicated that the region could become home to African-based commercial banks.
These were among the areas for concrete action coming out of the first ever AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum, being held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, at which a major talking point was the need for an air link between Africa and the Caribbean as well as increased investment and trade.
During a press conference on Friday evening, day two of the three-day conference, Prime Minister Mottley said she was unable to give an exact start date for the chartered flights but assured that action was forthcoming.
“The reality is that we have started more serious conversations than I have seen before, and as recent as [Thursday] evening my Ministry of Tourism and International Transport met with a number of persons from the Bank and from other countries. We are trying to see how best we can create a framework that will allow for charters first, if necessary.
“Barbados has indicated that we are prepared to work with one or two African countries to be able to do the co-marketing because you have to be able to sustain the traffic, and we hope we can look at anchoring maybe a city out of North America as well to help with the traffic load,” Mottley explained, adding that carrying cargo would also help to reduce the cost of the travel between the two regions.
“So, I am hopeful that within a few months we can make a reality of this pipedream that has been spoken about.”
Contending that it was wrong for people to have to obtain a transit visa through North Atlantic countries to come to the Caribbean from Africa, and vice versa, Mottley said: “If we have not just a sense of history but an appreciation for the economic activity that it will unlock, then I think that the key, in this case, will be well made. But like with any child we must creep before we walk; and like with new routes, we need to support it for the first year or two until it can sustain itself.”
Meanwhile, Oramah indicated that Afreximbank was ready to help with the necessary financing of the air link, while stating that he believed a regular service could become reality in less than five years.
Noting that Mottley’s determination will help bring about the change, he added: “And you have a bank like Afreximbank that says ‘good ideas that come, we are not going to use the standard ways of assessing their credit’.”
Earlier in the day, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins indicated that talks were advancing to have a direct air link through RwandAir, Etihad Airways, Ethiopian Airways, and Kenya Airways.
“We have already signed air services agreements with Kenya and Ghana. We should be signing further air services agreements with our partners as we move forward, and that in itself will then lend to negotiations with our commercial partners,” she said.
However, acknowledging that there would need to be demand for the airlines to travel between Africa and the Caribbean, Cummins said discussions around trade and investment were critical.
Responding to questions from reporters on Friday, Prime Minister Mottley also indicated there will be a television programme exchange between Barbados and African countries.
She said she will be seeking to have the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) engage in an information exchange agreement with television stations in Africa to facilitate the transfer of locally-produced content. This, she said, will then be extended throughout the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
The Prime Minister also indicated that she was hopeful of cooperation between Barbados and Egypt in the area of tourism and financial services, noting that discussions have already started on tourism.
During the conference, a number of trade and investment agreements were signed between Caribbean countries and companies and their African counterparts.
In the coming weeks and months, Afreximbank, which is headquartered in Egypt, is expected to send a mission to CARICOM to “understand the market and develop a plan so that we begin to deal with the low-hanging fruits”, according to Oramah.
He also announced that they would be looking at the possibility of establishing an African-based commercial bank in the Caribbean.
“We will tackle the capital problem aggressively, and one of the things we discussed with Prime Minister Mottley is making sure that apart from us [Afreximbank] that we bring commercial banks here. We need Africans to have control of the banking system here. That is the only way more Caribbean business persons can have access to credit . . . . Once we begin to deal with that other things will follow,” he said.