Photo credit: The University of the West Indies
It is with profound sadness that my first blog post for the year 2023 is to express my condolences on the sudden passing of a pillar of the Caribbean trade and development community and a reader of this Blog, the late Ambassador Prof. Richard Bernal. To say that the Caribbean region has lost yet another a giant is an understatement. For me, it still has not completely sunk in.
Prof. Bernal’s incomparable achievements and contributions, both as an academic and practitioner in the trade and development economics arenas, are lengthy and will be rightfully ventillated in other spaces. Many who follow trade developments would undoubtedly best remember him for his role as a diplomat and trade negotiator, the director general of the then Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) and the lead negotiator of the CARIFORUM-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement. This was CARIFORUM countries’ first trade agreement with a developed country. Prof. Bernal’s book “Globalisation, Trade and Economic Development: The CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement” is compulsory 101 reading for an understanding of the EPA, the background behind its negotiation and the wider Caribbean economic development problematique. But there is much more to Prof. Bernal’s work than this. Others will no doubt write profusely on the many facets of his accomplished career and life as an economist, diplomat, educator, academic, negotiator over the next few days as we mourn his loss.
Prof Bernal was both an avid reader and writer. His writings were a quilt of measured, well-researched ideas woven expertly and drawn from his groundings in economics, trade, political economy, development policy and international affairs. At the heart of it all was a central trend, how can the Caribbean escape its current growth and development conundrum? His scholarship has undoubtedly informed, enthused and shaped my interests as a trade policy specialist from the time I was a fresh-faced student doing my Masters in International Trade Policy at The UWI Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Policy & Services well over a decade ago. Even as recently as a few days ago I quoted Prof. Bernal in a journal article I am authoring. I continue to be inspired by and aspire towards his level of academic output. I was even happier when on one of his trips to Barbados, he kindly obliged my humble request to autograph my personal copies of two of his several books. I am an avid follower of his work and own copies of all his books.
While I did not know Prof. Bernal as well as others, I consider myself honoured to have made his acquaintance and privileged to have eventually met him in person. I have also enjoyed serving with him and many other regional luminaries as fellows in the Caribbean Policy Consortium. I deeply cherish the nuggets of wisdom and encouragement he shared with me in our correspondences.
His brilliant mind has physically left us. I however take some comfort in the fact that his voluminous publications list spanning books, journal articles, popular pieces and endless interviews, podcasts and webinars remain a rich repository of knowledge for future generations of trade and development practitioners, diplomats, specialists, scholars and students. These works contain his well-researched thinking and musings on key themes pervading the Caribbean development challenge – how do we achieve sustainable economic growth? How can trade assist this? How can we expand US-Caribbean relations for development? How can we make the growing Chinese-Caribbean relationship a mutually beneficial one? How has the Caribbean helped to shape international affairs even as small States?
I do hope that in recognition of his stellar contribution to the region’s corpus of research and literature on trade, international affairs and development issues, there will be some special library or unit established at The UWI where all his works could be accessed in a central place and/or a lecture series on the topics he held dear to his heart or a scholarship fund for students studying these issues established in his honour. I take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to the late Ambassador Bernal’s family.
Walk good, Ambassador.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is an international trade and development consultant and the founder of the Caribbean Trade Law and Development Blog http://www.caribbeantradelaw.com.