Barbados will make expanding trade levels and deepening cooperation with both traditional and non-traditional partners central planks of its post-COVID-19 economic recovery strategy. These goals were announced as part of a suite of foreign policy and foreign trade initiatives elaborated by Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Senator Dr. The Hon. Jerome Walcott in a COVID-19 press briefing held on Saturday, March 13, 2021.
Among these new initiatives is the opening of new diplomatic missions, including in Ghana, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates. The Kenya mission, which will be a joint Caricom mission, will be accredited to the United Nations office in Kenya and to other East African countries.
Commercial diplomacy will be an important tool in the Government’s tool kit with the announcement of the appointment of a Commercial and Cultural Officer for the new High Commission in Ghana and a Diaspora Officer for the UK mission. The Minister also noted that commercial attaches will be deployed in other missions over time.
The new strategy will see greater use of digital technologies in Barbados’ diplomatic engagement efforts and greater focus on leveraging the Barbados diaspora, particularly for harnessing investment, entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
Barbados will be deepening its relationships with traditional partners such as other CARICOM Member States, the US and Europe. There will be a focus as well on developing closer relationships with non-traditional partners in the EU.
South-South cooperation will continue to be a priority for Barbados as it cultivates relationships with newer partners such as China and countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Barbados will also deploy a Latin America strategy and will leverage its Panama Embassy.
Additionally, Barbados will continue to promote the principles of multilateralism, diplomacy and cooperation. It will work with all interested partners, particularly on issues of deep development significance to the island and region such as climate change, debt and the development of a multidimensional vulnerability index for determining eligibility for concessional aid and other development assistance.
Barbados’ focus on trade as part of its recovery efforts is a welcomed and not surprising step. Barbados is a small open economy highly dependent on the import of products and running continuous trade deficits.
The Covid-19 shock was a body blow to an economy that is already undergoing a homegrown IMF-sanctioned economic recovery and transformation programme but has so far been performing well according to the programme targets. The Covid-19 induced sudden drop in tourist arrivals was a significant factor in the economy’s near 18% contraction in 2020, according to the Central Bank of Barbados Review of the Barbados Economy for 2020. While tourism is unlikely to be replaced as the country’s main foreign exchange earner anytime soon, what is indeed needed is the expansion of exports in other sectors, particularly high-value added sectors.
The focus on trade expansion however must be moored to a coherent and well-articulated development strategy if it is to achieve the objective of contributing to a resilient, inclusive and sustainable post-Covid-19 recovery. It must be supported by and linked to equally coherent industrial and investment policies. After all, we do not seek to increase trade just for its sake but with the aim of promoting development through greater job creation, foreign exchange inflows, promotion of economic activity and poverty alleviation.
I personally eagerly look forward to the implementation of these initiatives. I also hope there will be data available so evidence-based monitoring and evaluation of the policies can be done to ascertain their efficacy.
For further information, please see this press release and a link to the recorded statement by Minister Walcott on the Barbados Government Information Service website here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B is an international trade and development specialist. Read more of her commentaries here or follow her on Twitter @licylaw. All views expressed herein are her personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may from time to time be affiliated.