The Caribbean needs to improve skills training, revitalize investments and increase connectivity (both physical and virtual), if it’s to kick start growth. That was the message from Caribbean Growth Forum participants - a mix of local business people, civil society and ministers from across the region.
Subscribing to the adage that a problem shared is a problem halved, they have been compiling challenges to find practical, sustainable and shared solutions to common obstacles. Because while the Caribbean Sea separates the islands, it also unites them as a region.
Connecting the region
Improving global and inter-island connectivity will therefore be key to any process for boosting growth in the Caribbean. To give a sense of the challenge, for one member of the delegation from St Vincent and the Grenadines, it took 3 days to fly to the forum in Nassau, Bahamas. A direct flight would have taken less than three hours.
But such delays are not just an inconvenience for the traveller. Inefficient customs, a lack of coordination and bottlenecks in the port processes, are currently costing the Caribbean dear.
“If it gets delayed here, then there is a cascading effect on other ports. These ships race at sea and they hate to wait at an inefficient port where they do not know when they are going to sail out next. That cargo has got to go to somebody else,” explained Master Mariner Ashok Pandey.
Consequently many countries see improving air and sea connectivity within the Caribbean as a top priority - particularly if the region is to take maximum advantage of the Panama Canal expansion.
But this too has its challenges, not least because many of the countries are also multi-island nations. As a result, any infrastructure projects will need to be duplicated across the archipelago.
No country knows this better than the Bahamas. Encompassing 180.000 square miles of ocean, and over 30 inhabited islands, delegates shared their experiences of privately financed works which has been key to recent infrastructure projects. One such example was the modernization of the port and airport in Bimini, financed by the same company who planned to build a casino on the island.
Consequently, the following challenge presented itself to those present in Nassau: With little room for public investment for infrastructure projects, how can the Caribbean, as a region, best present itself as an attractive prospect for private investment?