Aerial view of large container ship in the Caribbean sea.

African and Caribbean Officials Discuss Ways to Cement Bilateral Trade Ties

African and Caribbean nations recently held the first-ever AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum aimed at business-to-business engagements and discussions on a range of topics such as accelerating industrialization and manufacturing, increasing private sector investment, and expanding agribusiness opportunities and food security.

September 25, 2022

African and Caribbean nations recently took a major step toward building up their commercial and trading relationship, hoping to unlock what one report identified as more than USD1 billion in export potential.

Hundreds of delegates from both regions attended the first-ever AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum to discuss ways to create bilateral business opportunities and strengthen their trade ties. The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Export Barbados, and Invest Barbados organized the 3-day conference in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The investment forum focused on business-to-business engagements and discussions on a range of topics such as accelerating industrialization and manufacturing; developing special economic zones and industrial parks; improving infrastructure, financing and trade logistics, including regional integration; creating the conditions to accelerate private sector investment; promoting trade and tourism; improving agricultural productivity; and expanding agribusiness opportunities and food security.

Despite historical linkages, investment and trade between Africa and the Caribbean have been negligible. For example, while Caribbean countries are awash with fish, Africa imports USD 4.5 billion of fish from the global market—with the Caribbean accounting for less than 1% of this trade, according to the African Union. Less than 0.1% of African exports were destined for Caribbean markets in 2020, while Africa bought less than 1% of Caribbean exports that year.

The International Trade Centre launched a new report at the forum showing that the two regions have an export potential exceeding USD 1 billion in sectors ranging from agrifood and healthcare to tourism, fertilizer, and automobiles. International Trade Centre Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton identified four ways to transform African-Caribbean trade, such as tackling trade barriers and considering a free trade agreement between the two regions.

Traders in Caribbean and African countries are aware of the opportunity. Barbados, for instance, shipped a 20-foot container worth more than USD 20,000 to Ghana in April. “We’re starting in Ghana, but we’re hoping that we can then go further afield, all throughout the continent of Africa, because there’s significant demand for our products no matter where we go,” Barbados Minister of Industry, Innovation, Science and Technology Davidson Ishmael said at the time. “We want to encourage local producers to see Africa as an open playing field for them, an open market for them to be able to see how they can get their products and services onto the continent.”

Stronger African-Caribbean ties are especially important as economies around the world face recessions, unsustainable debt burdens, reduced flows of finance for sustainable development, climate change, and global supply chain disruptions, African Union Commissioner Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga told the forum.

Afreximbank President Benedict Oramah said the conference aimed to address these challenges and establish strong commercial and investment channels linked by banking and other financial services. This will “vastly increase the scale of both our markets and enable us to more effectively tap into and leverage the USD 27 trillion economy of the Americas and the Caribbean.” Afreximbank will invest half a billion dollars in the Caribbean after opening a regional bureau to support African-Caribbean trade, Oramah said. The bank will work with countries in the region to set up a Caribbean Exim bank as an Afreximbank subsidiary or affiliate, he added.

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