PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Heads of State, ministers and other high-level authorities from more than 25 Caribbean countries, along with officials from international and multilateral organizations, stressed the importance of implementing urgent solutions to support financing for development for that subregion’s nations in the era of COVID-19 and beyond, during two important virtual meetings convened by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) last Thursday, September 10.
The Sixth Meeting of the Caribbean Development Roundtable (CDR) and the Twenty-eighth Session of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC) were held virtually with the aim of taking stock of the progress made so far in persuading the international community to extend the financial support that the subregion needs and dialoguing on the strategies that will take the Caribbean from vulnerability to resilient development, and from economic peril to recovery and dynamic growth.
The sixth meeting of the CDR was presided over by Camillo Gonsalves, minister of finance, economic planning, sustainable development and information technology of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and featured the special participation of Mia Amor Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, who gave a keynote address; Andrew A. Fahie, premier and minister for finance of the British Virgin Islands (BVI); and Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s executive secretary. Also participating were ministers and senior representatives from various Caribbean countries, organizations in the United Nations system, and regional and multilateral institutions.
In his welcome remarks, minister Gonsalves underscored that dialogue between Caribbean countries is crucial, above all in this time of pandemic, since specific solutions to the myriad of problems affecting them must be urgently found.
“We need immediate and innovative responses to this regional calamity. Our language must be debt aid, relief, swap and suspension. Six months into the pandemic, COVID-19 has amplified the vulnerabilities of our countries, which are not only facing liquidity problems but also financial solvency problems. Our solution must be to navigate this together to find significant policies that enable us to confront the enormous economic and social challenges that lie ahead,” Gonsalves stated.
Meanwhile, ECLAC’s executivesSecretary stressed in her opening remarks that there is no more urgent time than now to consider the next steps for the Caribbean to address the pressing debt and liquidity challenges that many countries are facing, and which have been made much worse by COVID-19.
“Never before has the Caribbean suffered a shock that has had such widespread impact on the subregion. In the wake of the collapse of tourism and its domino effect across multiple sectors, governments have been forced to provide support to workers and small businesses, in circumstances where the burden of public debt and debt servicing is already prohibitive,” she explained. “That is why ECLAC has been so actively involved in the consultations on the financing for development initiative, in order to include the most vulnerable middle-income countries, such as those in the Caribbean.”
In her keynote address, the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, specially thanked ECLAC for listening to Caribbean countries regarding their most pressing needs and for making proposals that would provide relief for their delicate financial and social situation.
“Let’s be frank: the international financial system is broken. We are neither complaining nor begging. [Today] we are offering systemic global solutions to a systemic global problem, and I trust that our voice will be heard and we will be part of the debate. If we do not raise our voice together, we will continue to be ignored. We have a society and a civilization to defend,” the head of government emphasized.
Meanwhile, Andrew A. Fahie, premier and minister for finance of the British Virgin Islands, indicated that in an eventual recovery from COVID-19, medium and long-term investments will be needed throughout the world for the global economy to return to a path of healthy growth and for people to be able to live better lives.
During the CDR, ECLAC’s executive secretary presented the authorities with an overview of the economic situation in the Caribbean and its needs with regard to financing for development. She stressed that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the subregion’s economies has been severe, since it is forecast that subregional GDP growth will contract -6.9 percent in 2020 (excluding Guyana). In addition, it is expected that unemployment rates will rise – after having fallen by 2.9 percentage points in the last five years – and that countries’ public debt levels will increase, having already reached 67.6 percent of GDP in 2019.
To mitigate the pandemic’s impact in the Caribbean, Alicia Bárcena underlined that ECLAC has made a series of proposals and recommendations that can be summed up in five points: special dispensation for the Caribbean so it can access concessional funding, with debt cancellation without conditionalities and access to enhanced DSSI (bringing in private creditors) and Regional Development Banks; the issuance and reallocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs); negotiations with bilateral creditors, including the Paris Club (Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica); the establishment of a resilience fund for the Caribbean; and the involvement of the Green Climate Fund in ECLAC’s debt swap initiative.
“We urgently need to reform the international financial architecture. Financial stability should be seen as a global public good and liquidity should reconnect with the real economy. Also, the eligibility criteria for Middle-Income Countries (MICs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) must be reviewed to include vulnerability indicators. ECLAC will continue to advocate for greater financial support to build resilience for the Caribbean SIDS,” Bárcena emphasized.
In the afternoon, during the Twenty-eighth Session of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC) – a subsidiary body of ECLAC – Alicia Bárcena gave a preview presentation of the Caribbean Outlook 2020, the flagship report by ECLAC’s Subregional Headquarters for the Caribbean (which will be officially launched during the Commission’s 38th session, in October), which offers a broad assessment of the challenges that the subregion faces along its path to sustainable development.
“COVID-19 has brought great hardship, but we must remain resolute in our determination to build back better and progress on the transformation towards a sustainable society,” the senior United Nations official indicated.
In her presentation, the executive secretary emphasized that the main development priorities for building back better in the Caribbean are: strengthening food security, addressing poverty and inequality; promoting economic diversification and green investment for resilience building; expanding broadband access and promoting wider use of digital platforms for education and communication; strengthening risk assessment and disaster management; enhancing social protection and addressing the needs of vulnerable populations; and strengthening health infrastructure for COVID response and addressing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
At this gathering, additional speakers included Allen Chastanet, prime minister and minister for finance, economic growth, job creation, external affairs and public service of Saint Lucia, in his capacity as outgoing chair of the CDCC; and Camillo Gonsalves, minister of finance, economic planning, sustainable development and information Technology of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in his capacity as incoming chair of the CDCC.
Allen Chastanet expressed gratitude for the support that ECLAC has provided to Caribbean countries, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the prior work that has allowed them to confront the current situation, while Camillo Gonsalves stressed the extreme complexity of the events that the Caribbean has had to face in the last two years. “We have had to invest to protect those most vulnerable and those displaced by the pandemic and to fight against the inequalities produced by unemployment and the collapse of some sectors of the economy,” he indicated.
The meeting of the CDCC continued with a keynote address on the current state of multilateralism and regionalism, delivered by Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, and a ministerial dialogue focused on the Committee’s program of work in the 2018-2019 biennium, 2020, and the program proposed for 2021.
At the end of the meeting, the participants approved a set of resolutions in which they urge member countries and associate members to embrace as a matter of priority those strategies that would reduce the vulnerability of Caribbean countries to external shocks, particularly those that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, by adopting the recommendations presented by ECLAC. In addition, they call on the international community to help address the Caribbean’s unique vulnerabilities at the proceedings of the high-level event on financing for development in the COVID Era, as well as other forums, through debt reduction and the establishment of a resilience fund, to secure low-cost long-term financing that allows for urgent resilience building.
They also highlighted the importance of ECLAC in providing substantive support to the agenda of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the sustainable development process in the Caribbean, in the framework of the 2030 Agenda and other development platforms, especially through its capacity to produce broad multidisciplinary studies, statistical analysis and evidence-based policy recommendations.