Thursday 1st March, 2007

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Expanding intra-regional trade

Since 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 power’s 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 order.

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 state’s level of development or export strategies.

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]


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