Building bridges with the Caribbean

Harris Marley

Global Courant

The African-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum, held in Barbados in September, was a historic moment in Africa-Caribbean relations.

Hundreds of years after the slave trade tore millions of Africans from their homes for a brutal life on the other side of the Atlantic, this era-defining summit, hosted by Afreximbank, succeeded in forging the historic ties between Africa and the Caribbean – a crucial member of the African diaspora, defined by the African Union as the sixth region of the continent.

The need was great: trade between the two regions remains low. Africa accounts for only 4.4% of the $18.8 billion in goods exported annually from the Caribbean, while providing only about $603 million of the $33 billion imported into the region. It is believed that trade between the two regions can be increased to as much as $11 billion per year.

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The results of the forum were substantial: the partners pledged to implement a strategic partnership between the business communities in Africa and the Caribbean with the aim of promoting bilateral cooperation and engagement in trade, investment, technology transfer, innovation, transportation, tourism, culture and other services.

One of the main signatories was the partnership agreement between Afreximbank and a first seven of the 15 countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Surinamese.

But from the beginning it was clear to Afreximbank that the Forum would not be just a one-off, but would herald a new era in economic relations. Afreximbank had already established strong ties with the Caribbean during the pandemic, when the African Medical Supplies Platform, backed by Afreximbank, helped obtain personal protective equipment, testing kits and other supplies needed by African and Caribbean countries to protect citizens during the pandemic.

But since the Forum, Benedict Oramah, president of Afrexim Bank, has been relentless in pursuing even closer relations with Caribbean partners.

At the 44th Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Nassau, The Bahamas, in February, Professor Oramah addressed Caribbean leaders and lamented that “for so many decades, the global capitalist economy, built on the sweat and blood of African slaves, has remained an unbearable burden on the shoulders of Africans; we are now ready to make it work for us.

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“It is capital, owned, controlled and deployed by us, not others, that has the best chance of turning the iniquities of that sad history into an asset for a fresh new beginning of shared prosperity.”

He revealed that in just under six months after the partnership agreement was opened for signature, Afreximbank had made arrangements to set up a Caribbean regional office to direct its interventions in the CARICOM states, revealing that the council of The bank’s board has set a limit of $1.5 billion for current signatories to the Participation Agreement, with that limit increasing to $3 billion when all CARICOM countries join.

That was no idle boast – in April, Afreximbank had confirmed that 11 of the 15 CARICOM member states had signed the agreement, which grants signatories a status similar to that of participating African states and consolidates the bank’s efforts to support South -South trade.

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It was also in April that Afrexim Bank confirmed that its Board of Directors had approved the opening of the bank’s CARICOM branch in Barbados; a move praised as crucial by Oramah.

“There are huge opportunities to scale up trade and investment flows between the African continent and the wider African diaspora. Investment flows between Africa and the Caribbean are currently virtually non-existent. This strategic partnership will open the door to enhanced trade and investment between Africa and the Caribbean. We are ready to right the mistakes of the middle passage. This approval is an important step in that direction.”

At the time of writing, 11 countries have signed up. When all CARICOM countries join – as Afreximbank expects – it is clear that the Caribbean diaspora will be able to play a crucial role as Africa’s sixth region. N

Building bridges with the Caribbean

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