THE UPCOMING Caribbean Investment Forum (CIF) in the Bahamas will be an opportunity for the region to sharpen its focus on trade with the European Union (EU).
At a launch for the forum, which will be held from October 23-25 under the theme “A bold new Caribbean,” Caribbean Export Development Agency director Deodat Maharaj called on the Caribbean to unite as a single market bloc and take advantage of the longstanding free-trade agreement signed with the EU decades ago.
“When we put our population together in the Caribbean and we include the Dominican Republic, we are looking at a market of 27 million,” he said. “We have a free trade agreement with the EU that allows investors who come and set up shop here, manufacturing or otherwise, to export their products to a highly lucrative market.”
These comments bring home the fact that while Europe is often seen as an important market in the Caribbean’s tourism trade, the region is becoming increasingly important as a trading partner for commodities and services.
In 2019, Cariforum – which includes Caricom states and the Dominican Republic – exported €4.60 billion in goods to the EU and imported €7.04 billion, giving the EU a surplus of €2.44 billion.
However, by 2022, things had changed, with EU imports at €12 billion, exports at €7.8 billion and the Caribbean enjoying a surplus of €4.1 billion.
According to the European Commission, fuel and mining products like gas and oils, bananas, sugar and rum, minerals (gold, corundum, aluminium oxide and hydroxide), iron ore products and fertilisers are the main Caribbean exports to the EU.
This region imports mainly vessels, cars, construction vehicles, engine parts, phone equipment, milk and cream and spirit drinks from the EU.
Additionally, EU imports of services from Cariforum increased from €13.6 billion in 2014 to €21.1 billion in 2015, according to EU parliament figures.
Marianne Van Steen, the EU ambassador to Jamaica, said the upcoming forum will present opportunities for the Caribbean to connect with the European open market.
“This market ensures the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons for over 450 million citizens,” she said. “That single market is accessible to the Caribbean through a free trade agreement that we call the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that we signed in 2008.”
The ambassador noted the agreement allows for duty-free transport between countries which is backed by extensive technical and financial support programmes to help Caribbean companies to meet the standards of the European market.
While the existing agreement included protections for sensitive products, those asymmetries are due to end from this year in some cases, meaning it is full speed ahead for this deal.
At a time when global trade dynamics are more volatile than ever owing to political changes, the pressing challenges of the climate crisis and disruptions in distribution models, it is a good idea for the region to deepen trade ties with the EU, which is currently Cariforum’s second largest trading partner, behind the US and ahead of China.