its inception, the ACS has placed emphasis on the issue
of trade as one of the more dynamic themes, and in fact
it can be said that the initial leitmotif that encouraged
the countries of the region to come together under this
scheme was precisely the issue of trade.
Nevertheless, the countries comprising the ACS have been
restricted in the advancement of negotiations to establish
their own area of trade, since each group of countries comes
from a very specific trade tradition, which to some extent,
having operated in a particular way for so many years, limits
their possibilities of opening up to new markets, even if
it is with the closest neighbours on the littoral.
For historic reasons, the earliest trade links were confined
to direct relationships with the metropolises, which is
understandable, given the monopolistic and concentration
mechanisms applied during this period of Caribbean history.
However, that initial stage, led by European countries,
was followed by the predominance of the US over any other
trade destination. That northern powers dominance
explains why trade with and from the US accounts for approximately
80 per cent of total trade within the region.
It could be said that the Caribbean has always (though not
entirely) been under the control of one authority or another,
commercially speaking. Its political independence has not
allowed the region to redirect the focus of its trade relations
from a perspective that more closely reflects its own interests
and the interests of its neighbours.
The link with the North American market is so strong for
ACS countries that the fluctuations in their own market
follow the demand generated in the North.
At the core of all of this is the regional economic liberalisation
process, in which international organisations played a crucial
role, with the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank leading the structural adjustment programmes that give
a new shape to our countries economies and trade schemes.
However, the mechanism of subjection of these economies
to the US economy does not function solely because of geopolitical
reasons (although this factor lies at the heart of the current
hegemonic scheme), but it also influences a clearly defined
policy regarding differential treatment for exports from
that group of countries.
It must be borne in mind that the numerical growth of the
Greater Caribbean diaspora in the territory of the US is
seen as a new factor for attracting exports toward that
country. This is influenced by the growing demands for ethnic
products by the migrant population in that country, as well
as by the financial sector that is becoming stronger as
a result of remittances.
When the governments decided to come together in the ACS,
they thought that this association could serve as a mechanism
to give a new direction to their trade relations, giving
greater consideration to the interest of the countries within
the group, or at least reversing the historically inherited
With respect to increasing intra-ACS trade flows, one of
the initiatives undertaken has been the Business Forum of
the Greater Caribbean, whose eighth instalment will be held
in March, in Panama City, Panama.
The forum has undoubtedly played a proactive role, seeking
to create a business environment that would help improve
the competitiveness of the companies belonging to ACS states,
regardless of each states level of development or
Every year, business meetings are held as part of the activities
developed during the said forum and they have been giving
entrepreneurs an opportunity to expand their businesses
and make them grow. The statistics from recent forums have
proven this and companies are deciding more and more to
exhibit their products at that event, which has facilitated
the insertion of new products into other international markets.
Yet another beneficial result of the forum, and one that
we must emphasise, is the participation of international
presenters, who develop relevant topics regarding international
trade. As high-level professionals, they provide an up-to-date
tool with their knowledge on the issue. This is highly useful
for entrepreneurs who are developing their skills on how
markets operate in the Greater Caribbean region.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the experiences gained in previous
forums have allowed us to deepen the understanding of this
new business culture, and the ACS Secretariat
therefore recognises that the expansion and strengthening
of trade relations among the countries of the region require
actions that go beyond market access.
Thus, it is imperative for contact to be established between
the social and political actors, which for us is the fastest
way to increase knowledge among them, this being the best
approach toward overcoming the stereotypes that still hinder
spontaneous rapprochement among Caribbean people.
Dr Rubén Silié Valdez is the secretary general
of the Association of Caribbean States. The views
expressed are not necessarily the official views of
the ACS. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]