By Rawle Toney
Barbados is strategically positioned to cultivate an enduring alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Saturday.
Speaking at a press conference at the Grantley Adams International Airport on her return from the Saudi-Caricom Summit in Riyadh, Mottley said the collaboration holds the potential to significantly enhance various aspects of the island, ultimately improving the quality of life for Barbadians.
The summit addressed critical areas such as economics, investment, trade, health care and tourism.
In describing the unprecedented nature of the meeting, Prime Minister Mottley emphasised its purpose, “to ensure that we establish a new trajectory for relations between the Kingdom and the Caribbean community”.
Addressing concerns within the local Muslim community, particularly related to the pilgrimage of Hajj and Umrah, Mottley reported a positive development, stating, “after our conversations, we have agreed that these persons who want to go from Barbados will be facilitated”.
Efforts are underway, coordinated between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Barbados and its Saudi Arabian counterpart, to ensure the removal of obstacles hindering the faithful from practising their faith.
The two nations have committed to collaborative on initiatives in key areas such as investments, trade, and people-to-people partnerships.
Prime Minister Mottley highlighted the scholarship programmes, with a reciprocal exchange where individuals from Saudi Arabia could engage in research and studies in Barbados, while Barbadians explore opportunities in Saudi Arabian universities.
Turning attention to health care, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been established between the Ministers of Health of both countries, which focuses on the development of health information systems, the creation of a virtual hospital, and the enhancement of the polyclinic system, encompassing a $50 million project with potential contributions from the Gulf States.
Barbados has secured funding from the Saudi Development Fund, amounting to $100 million for an urban renewal project, which aims to address water facilities, proper housing, and infrastructural services in neglected urban communities.
“When we say that there was no development compact at the time of independence, it is largely because we became independent and those who left us, left us without any kind of funding to be able to address the needs of those that they left behind. And in a very real sense, this has continued because governments in the post-independence era had to spend money on education, on health care on a whole range of things,” Mottley said.
There were also discussions on the role of Barbados as a transhipment point for the Middle East, expanding logistics opportunities in the Americas, and cooperation in energy.
The latter involves leveraging Saudi Arabia’s expertise in both traditional hydrocarbon and renewable energy, with a focus on decarbonising technology to minimise emissions.
According to Mottley, “There is no doubt that they are global leaders with respect to both traditional hydrocarbons and also renewable energy. And Barbados does not have the depth of capacity even in terms of understanding how best our own oil company can start using more decarbonizing technology to minimize the emissions that will come.”
Collaborative efforts extend to water desalination, with the Barbados Water Authority engaging in discussions with its Saudi Arabian counterpart at both technical and commercial levels.
Given Barbados’ status as one of the most water-scarce countries in the region and Saudi Arabia’s global leadership in water desalination, the discussions hold significance in addressing critical water-related challenges.
Furthermore, negotiations are underway for the settlement of a tax treaty and a bilateral investment treaty between Saudi Arabia and Barbados.