Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is on a mission to pull Barbados and its CARICOM neighbours closer together, as the effects of a global economic downturn, now predicted to last 10 years, continue to hurt.
He outlined his vision for greater cooperation in the region last night, identifying energy, food security and tourism as the areas in which countries like Barbados were most vulnerable.
Stuart’s concerns and suggestions were made at the Errol Barrow Centre For Creative Imagination when he delivered the University of the West Indies Annual Distinguished Alumni Lecture.
“In no areas have this region’s vulnerabilities been more evident than those of energy, food security and tourism. Energy prices during this crisis have been both unstable and destabilising,” he said.
“In a country like Barbados where imports of petroleum products account for six per cent of GDP, about the same amount that is spent on education, the need to forge collaborative links with sister CARICOM countries in order to combat the challenge is self evident.
“Mutually beneficial and collaborative relationships in the area of fossil fuels and natural gas already exist or are being forged against the backdrop of the current crisis. This region is rich in renewable energy resources, which guarantee a sound foundation for sustainable use of solar and wind related energy technologies.”
He said the overall goal of this “must continue to be the sustainable development of the region with a sensible balance being struck between social, economic and environmental imperatives”.
In the area of food, the Prime Minister said “regional recognition of the link between a modern and viable business oriented agricultural sector and regional food security is an indispensable prerequisite to confronting the volatility in world commodity markets”.
“After all, who does not know that access to food and individual survival are indissolubly linked! The need for collaboration in this area, therefore, requires on this occasion no stronger advocacy from me,” he stated.
Tourism was another area he identified as “crying out for a unified Caribbean response to the challenges which we face”.
“We need to unite even more closely than before as a region, share the best practices worthy of emulation, and acknowledge that it is the Caribbean as a destination, and not so much individual countries, that is facing strong competition from other regions. We have a unique Caribbean brand to market and to protect in tourism and must do so without hesitation or compromise,” he said.
The official said he also thought CARICOM countries should “revisit the long touted idea of sharing diplomatic facilities in key locations, to cut down on costs in these challenging times, and to enhance our ability to articulate our joint interests in such locations”.
Stuart also saw an important role for the region’s private sector in making his vision of enhanced cooperation work.
“Scope continues to exist for combined efforts on the part of the private sector in the Caribbean, with appropriate facilitation provided by Government, to penetrate new markets such as Latin America and China, for exports of our goods and services,” he noted.
The Prime Minister said he also wanted the development and promotion of “a Caribbean brand” to compliment tourism initiatives.
This included investments in “the features which make our products and services unique, raise productivity, increase competitiveness and provide an unforgettable quality of goods and services”. (SC)