Beyond tourism and remittances: what future for the Caribbean economy
In Business news. So what future lies beyond remittances and tourism for the Caribbean economy? Do the worsening macro-economic ratios suggest that this is a deepening crisis that requires structural changes? How should the region respond to the irresistible global drive for scale? Is the region condemned to increasing poverty by globalisation and larger scale tourism? Is there a role for a regional economic strategy?
These were some of the questions debated in a lively forum on 05 December at the second instalment of the Dr. Eric Williams panel discussion series of the British Foundation of the University of the West Indies which was held jointly with the Institute of the Americas, University College London.
Panellist, Dr Vindelyn Smith-Hillman, Economic Advisor at the Law Commission (England), highlighted that a measured, evidence based approach to both the problem and solution is required. Further, the current plight offers the opportunity for a joint approach between Caribbean countries.
Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Professor Emeritus at University of London, a distinguished expert on Caribbean and Latin American affairs, pointed the way, suggesting a range of new sectors that could serve as new economic fuel to the region.
For example, “medical tourism” and “educational services” are sectors where the region’s proximity, climate, language and intellectual capital offer significant advantages. Although these sectors are not strictly related to tourism, the brand and footprint could be used as leverage.
Mr Alan Smith, Global Head of HSBC Risk Strategy and a deep thinking banker, offered further optimism in the region’s ability to cope with geo-political shocks. Mr Smith argued that Caribbean society is the product of globalisation and that the capacity to adapt is part of the Caribbean’s DNA. This engaging discussion was skilfully moderated by Vanessa Hutchinson, lawyer and BFUWI Trustee. Other themes and issues brought out in the exchange included:
- More thought and evidence on what areas to focus on is required. For example “back-packer” tourism could possibly have more beneficial returns and consumption patterns for local economies than traditional package tourism.
- Non-traditional investment tools/instruments could be structured in order to mobilise global capital. For example, commercial banks could be encouraged to set up schemes/products that lend to chosen sectors in order to attract diaspora capital; that is, the growth of diaspora attractive capital products.
- It has not escaped notice that the Guyanese economy, traditionally much less reliant on tourism, is one of the few relatively “bright spots” in this part of the world.
- Widening of regional trade bloc would enhance the attractiveness of the region to investors and global economic centres. As globalisation increases, so does the regional imperative. Brazil would probably be more interested in doing business with a joined up Caribbean bloc than a fragmented set of countries.
- By contrast, deepening of the region, for example, single currency initiatives is a red-herring for the economic advancement of the Caribbean due to the political and economic tensions that would result.
- Caribbean leadership appears to be siloed, silent and unimaginative on these initiatives.
There was a strong consensus that a regional approach for the required economic changes would benefit the broader Caribbean significantly. The need for a policy framework was an eerily similar conclusion as in the BFUWI’s first panel discussion held in May this year, “New Caribbean Oil Exploration: has the region already missed the boat?”. The “new economy boat” hasn’t sailed yet but it is in urgent need of a captain and a compass.
The BFUWI’s panel discussion series is named in honour of Dr. Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago and one of the most outstanding thinkers of his generation, who was instrumental in shaping Caribbean identity and nationalism. Dr. Williams is therefore a fitting icon to represent the intellectual heritage of the Caribbean through this panel discussion series.
The British Foundation for the University of the West Indies is a UK registered charity whose mission is to raise the profile of the Caribbean’s premier academic institution, make links with British academic institutions and connect with Caribbean descendants in the UK, who might be enticed by the opportunity to study for a highly respected degree at a fraction of the current costs in the UK.
Further information on the panel discussion is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.