Alicia Nicholls

CARICOM countries will establish a joint diplomatic mission in Kenya – which for many CARICOM governments, like Barbados, will be their first diplomatic mission on the African continent. According to a press release from the Barbados Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) dated December 7, Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, unveiled a plaque and accepted the space for the joint mission on behalf of the regional grouping.

The joint mission will be housed in an ultra-modern business complex in the diplomatic district of Nairobi, Kenya, across the road from the United Nations’ main office in Africa.

During the unveiling, Prime Minister Mottley stated that “this is but only one of many steps we will take in the next few months that will communicate to our people, as well as to those who are watching from outside, that this is not a fly-by-night relationship.”

She further stated that it is a relationship ” that will be anchored deeply and which is intended to unleash people-to-people communication and cooperation and the trade and investment opportunities such that our nations can prosper by relying on each other, and not simply on those from the North Atlantic.”

Efforts at deepening Africa-Caribbean relations

Only a handful of Caribbean countries have a diplomatic presence on the African continent. Additionally, trade between the countries of the Africa continent and the Caribbean is small, with the Caribbean enjoying a trade surplus. According to data from ITC Trade Map, CARICOM countries exported US$449 million worth in goods to Africa in 2017, representing 2.6% of CARICOM’s total exports to the world. Whereas, the region imported US$258 million worth of goods from the continent in that same year. Africa’s exports to CARICOM only represented a mere 0.06% of its total world exports in 2017.

However, this volume of trade is likely to increase if the current interest in deepening Africa-Caribbean economic relations continues. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Mottley led delegations to Morocco, Ghana and now to Kenya where she is attending the ACP Summit.

During the visit of President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo to Barbados in June this year, Prime Minister Mottley had also announced plans by her Government to soon establish a High Commission to Ghana. In a move to facilitate travel from Africa, the Barbados government has also waived visa requirements for nationals from eight African countries.

This year as well, President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo visited Barbados and several other Caribbean countries as part of Ghana’s year of remembrance of 400 years since the start of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, also paid a visit to the region a few weeks later. During their visits, both Presidents took the opportunity to sign cooperative agreements and outline plans to further develop business and other relations between the Caribbean and their respective countries.

In August 2019, it was announced that CARICOM and the African Union “will shortly sign a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a framework for engagement and cooperation”.

On that note, there is currently no trade agreement between CARICOM or any African countries. Some individual Caribbean countries have bilateral investment treaties (most of which are not in force) and double taxation agreements with individual African countries.

Joint mission to be applauded

The promised CARICOM joint diplomatic mission should be applauded and is a good sign of CARICOM leaders’ intention to meaningfully deepen our ties with the African continent – a continent with which we share strong historical bonds, but still limited commercial ties. A joint mission allows CARICOM countries to pool their scarce financial, human and other resources – similar to what the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has demonstrated with its joint missions in Geneva and Brussels.

Need for a trade/business attache

It is hoped that the staff of the future CARICOM joint mission to Kenya would also include some kind of trade attache or business liaison which would be instrumental in helping to promote Africa-Caribbean trade, investment and tourism.

According to the press release, Prime Minister Mottley will, when she assumes Chairmanship of CARICOM in January 2020, work with the Kenyan Government and business community to hold the first CARICOM-Africa summit. These are indeed exciting times for Africa-Caribbean relations!

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.