It is encouraging to see progress in the development of the trade and investment relationship between Africa and the Caribbean. The Africa Export Import Bank recently announced they will be opening a Barbados office and have pledged USD1.5 billion to support a trade partnership between the Caribbean and Africa. This announcement follows the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum, which took place in September in the Caribbean. Deodat Maharaj writes that this momentum must be maintained as it is time to build on our intricate and deeply intertwined history with Africa and strengthen our bonds with Africa.
But, concrete progress requires a lot more work. According to the International Trade Centre’s Trade Map (ITC), Africa’s exports in 2021 to CARICOM and the Dominican Republic accounted for just 0.001% of Africa’s total exports. Our exports to Africa as a percentage go to 1.4%. The main trade between CARICOM, West Africa and the Region is petroleum products, especially with Gabon, Ghana, and West Africa. The limited trade that we have with Africa is dominated mainly by a few products and very few countries. So, the question is, how can we improve our trade and investment relationships with Africa, leveraging our people-to-people, historical, and cultural ties, given the current patterns and size trade?
The Caribbean must first have a forensic approach to redefining their relationship. First, it is important to recognize that Africa isn’t a single continent. This vast continent is home to 54 countries, with sharp differences in the subregions and regions they inhabit. In terms of language, there are many regional, local and national variants. Large swathes in Africa also speak English, French, and Portuguese. Take Tanzania, where I lived and served in my first stint. It has more than 120 ethnic groups and dialects. Nigeria, Africa’s largest country, is more complicated than South Africa, which is one of the 20 richest countries on the planet. As a Caribbean region that deals with a large continent, it is important for us to recognize that while we desire a closer relationship with Africa politically, the economic side of things requires us to concentrate on smaller countries.
We should also start from where our strengths lie, and build upon the foundations we have in West Africa. Republic Bank Ltd is one example of a business that has a strong presence. In the same way, a partnership was established in the area Financial Technology between Barbados Global Integrated FinTech Solutions, iPay Anywhere, iPay and TelNet, a Nigerian company that specializes in digital transformation. This will eventually give access to 200 millions customers via the TelNet database. GIFTS has also partnered with Zeepay, a Ghana-based fintech company, to provide Barbadians-Zeemoney, a mobile wallet that allows users to transfer funds to other Zeemoney users. This partnership is a perfect example of the mutual opportunities between the two regions. It also shows the benefits of having a clear focus and taking concrete actions. Success breeds success, and it is the best foundation for a growing partnership.
Third, we must shift from traditional representation to commercial diplomacy, building on existing diplomatic relations and creating new ones. A few Caribbean countries are already on the same path. It cannot be done in an ad hoc fashion. It must be part of a cohesive and systematic approach to commerce diplomacy. This is related to building relationships with African countries that are similar in size to us and share common concerns about issues like climate vulnerability and the need to access concessional financing. We will find natural allies in small African states and island countries like Seychelles, Mauritius and Botswana and Sierra Leone.
We have two options: we can continue with business as usual or proceed incrementally, which could result in another lost opportunity. Or, we could pursue a transformational agenda to reshape and reset the trade and investment relationship between Africa and us. I’ve seen the immense opportunities that Rising Africa offers me, having lived, worked, and traveled extensively in Africa. We need to maintain a focus on building on our existing relationships and forging key partnerships on the continent in order to take our relationship to the next level.
Deodat Mahraj is the Executive Director at the Caribbean Export Development Agency. He can be reached at [emailprotect]
About Caribbean Export
Caribbean Export is a regional trade and investment promotion organization that focuses on the acceleration of the Caribbean’s economic transformation. We partner with businesses to boost exports, attract investments, and create jobs for a resilient Caribbean. The Regional Private Sector Programme (RPSDP), which is funded by the European Union as part of the 11th European Development Fund, (EDF), is currently being implemented.
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