Alicia Nicholls

Caribbean-African relations have become an exciting and refreshing trade space to watch in recent months. Over the past few weeks, two African leaders (Their Excellencies President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya) paid separate official visits to the Caribbean. Barbados’ Prime Minister, the Hon. Mia Amor Mottley also paid a state visit to Morocco in June 2019.

It was also announced earlier this month that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) would over the next year seek to deepen and formalise cooperation with its African equivalent – the African Union (AU). This article takes a brief look at why formalization of south-south cooperation and engagement between CARICOM and the African Union is a good idea.

CARICOM and AU have more similarities than differences

The formal relationship between the two regions has been mainly through their participation in the Africa, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) and the Commonwealth of Nations groupings, and not directly bilateral. But change is on the horizon. In 2012, Heads of State and Government of the African Union, the Caribbean and South America concluded the Global African Summit with a declaration which outlined a plan of action for forging political, economic and social cooperation between the AU and ‘all inter-governmental entities in regions in which African Diaspora populations are part of’, which includes CARICOM.

As I wrote in a previous article a couple of weeks ago, there is much promise for expanding and deepening economic and political relations between Africa and the Caribbean. A boost would be, of course, formal collaboration between CARICOM and the AU.

CARICOM is an intergovernmental organization of fifteen mostly English-speaking Caribbean States and territories founded on July 4, 1973 by the Treaty of Chaguaramas (revised in 2001). It was preceded by the Caribbean Free Trade Agreement (CARIFTA) which lasted from 1968-1973 and the West Indian Federation (1958-1962). CARICOM has a collective population of approximately 18 million. Its secretariat is based in Georgetown, Guyana. Twelve CARICOM Members are currently full members of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The AU is a 55-nation pan-continental, intergovernmental organization which was officially launched in July 2002. The AU has a population of just over 1 billion. Its secretariat is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AU has launched Agenda 2063, an ambitious plan to transform the continent into a global powerhouse. There are currently eight regional economic communities considered ‘building blocks’ of the AU, and diaspora relations are also integral to the AU.

Both CARICOM and the AU are intergovernmental organisations which encompass post-colonial States with cultural and linguistic differences, facing a myriad of challenges and varying levels of development. Both are in the process of wide-scale regional integration projects. CARICOM, for instance, is in the process of trying to consolidate its CSME. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which was signed in March 2018 and currently has 54 signatories, seeks to create a seamless pan-African economic space. The AfCFTA came into effect in May 2019 and the process has started for the Agreement’s operationalization.

There are, of course, differences between the two regions which may impact on the policy and negotiating positions taken in multilateral fora. For example, most CARICOM countries are services-based (mainly tourism and/or financial services) economies, with the exception of Belize, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago where commodities trade is important. In the mostly resource-rich African countries, however, commodities trade is king. Most Caribbean countries are Small Island Developing States (SIDS), while those in the AU include mainly landlocked and coastal continental States. The only six AU SIDS are Comoros, Guinea Bissau, Mauritius, Sao Tome e Principe and Seychelles. Moreover, 33 of the 55-member AU are classified by the United Nations (UN) as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), while Haiti is the only LDC in CARICOM.

Despite these differences, which should not be overlooked, I believe the prospects for CARICOM/AU collaboration and engagement are very promising. Both regions can learn from each other as they seek to deepen their integration projects. There is also scope for closer Caribbean/Africa multilateral collaboration on issues of mutual interest, such as confronting the growing threat of unilateralism and protectionism; the achievement of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their targets; de-risking by global banks; climate change; reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO); securing reparations, to name a few. Intra-regional cooperation prospects are also promising in many areas such as agriculture, education, the creative industries, renewable energy, medicine/health, the blue and green economies, sports, information and communications technology (ICTs), for example.

Moreover, Barbados’ upcoming co-hosting of the UNCTAD 15 Quadrennial in October 2020 provides further prospects for collaboration on important multilateral trade and development issues. It is interesting to note that UNCTAD 14 was held in Nairobi, Kenya so there is the opportunity for Kenya to share with Barbados its experience in the successful hosting of the UNCTAD 14.

Plans for Deepening CARICOM/AU ties  

A press release issued by the CARICOM Secretariat noted that CARICOM Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque and Deputy Chair of the African Union Commission (AUC), His Excellency Kwesi Quartey, discussed the need for continued ACP solidarity in the on-going negotiations for the Post-Cotonou Agreement with the European Union (EU) and agreed to explore collaboration on multilateral areas of concern, such as climate change.

The CARICOM press release further noted that the two leaders “took the opportunity to consider some of the areas in which their two organisations could work together including the formalisation of an institutional relationship between CARICOM and the AU to promote cooperation and to strengthen the deep bond of friendship between Africa and the Caribbean.”

Moreover, St. Lucia Times has quoted St. Lucian Prime Minister, the Hon. Allen Chastanet, as stating that there will be a planned CARICOM and the AU Summit and the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a framework for engagement and cooperation. Prime Minister Chastanet is further quoted by this news agency as stating that “Barbados and Suriname will partner in establishing an Embassy in Ghana, while Barbados and Saint Lucia will partner in establishing an Embassy in Kenya.”

During President Kenyatta’s visit, Barbados and Kenya have also committed to negotiating a Double Taxation Agreement and Bilateral Investment Treaty with each other, and discussed collaboration in areas such as ICTs, renewable energy, sports, the blue economy, health, education and air services. Kenya has also sought the Caribbean’s support in its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

While this high-level political commitment to greater Caribbean-African engagement is needed and commendable, it is firm to firm, university to university and people to people collaboration which will transform deeper Caribbean-African relations from an aspiration to reality. An important step, therefore, will also be formalizing relations between private sector organisations, business support organizations, investment promotion agencies, universities and tourism boards in the Caribbean and Africa in order to promote Caribbean-Africa trade and investment in both traditional and emerging sectors, research and tourism. On this note, it was welcomed news that there will be commencement of engagement between the private sectors of Barbados and Kenya, as well as deeper university collaboration.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

DISCLAIMER: All views expressed herein are her personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may be affiliated from time to time.