With the sluggish recovery of the world’s economy seemingly providing little hope, particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as those in the region, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries in the last two weeks used the hallowed chamber of the United Nations to plea for much-need aid while blasting developed countries for their current quagmire.
One by one, regional leaders and representatives told the just-concluded 67th Session of the U.N. General Assembly Debate that greed, insensitivity and nonchalance, among other things, by industrialized nations were primarily behind most of the challenges facing the region.
“In our Caribbean region, the global economic and financial meltdown continues to be felt most acutely by the poor, the youth, the elderly and the vulnerable, who bear no responsibility for the rampant financial speculation and unregulated movement of capital that spurred the crisis,” St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said.
“Today, four years into an externally-imposed meltdown, which has produced negative or marginal growth across the Caribbean, our region is forced to contemplate the implications of a potential ‘lost decade’ of development,” he added.
“Our hard-won developmental gains are in jeopardy, and our settled political stability is in possible peril,” Gonsalves warned. “The international community cannot ignore our plight based on a distorted calculus of middle-income status and relative prosperity; or on simplistic, even offensive, stereotypes of Caribbean paradises.”
The Vincentian leader said small, highly-indebted middle-income developing countries, like those in the Caribbean, which are very vulnerable to natural disasters and international economic convulsions, have especial concerns, “which the international community is obliged to address properly in partnership with the people of our region.
“External shocks, derived from nature or the workings of an uneven casino capitalism, are not merely episodic to our Caribbean; they are a constant feature of our regional economies,” he said.
Gonsalves said central to the “urgent reexamination and reconfiguration of the existing economic apparatus” is the recognition that the Caribbean’s modern context and individual national characteristics “do not lend themselves to strict classical or Keynesian economic prescriptions or their variants.”
He said the region’s peculiarities of size, openness and vulnerability require “uniquely homegrown economic policies that are rooted not in any prevailing ideology or fashionable theories from outside but in a sensible, flexible and focused practicality.
“While we welcome and solicit assistance and consultation with relevant institutions and organizations, such consultations must be free of the type of textbook orthodoxies or formulaic prescriptions that are inapplicable to our times and circumstances,” Gonsalves said. “Our path to development must be our own.”
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer lamented that the region is yet to see any significant improvements nearly five years since a sharp downturn in the world’s economy began.
“While we have tried several attempts to curtail the hemorrhaging of our fragile economies, it must be said that we need greater cooperation, flexibility and inclusion from our developed partners,” he said, stating that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should no longer be the criterion used when accessing concessionary financing and other international financial reliefs.
Instead, Spencer urged that mechanisms be put in place taking consideration “a host of other elements including fragility of economies.
“We are still in a crisis, a crisis of confidence in global governance and the institutional capacity for managing the international financial systems, international trade and international development policies,” he lamented.
“We are also living in the era of globalization, where cooperative collectives – and not ambitious and selfish empires – must be the order of the day in international financial governance,” he added.
“A privilege few should never be allowed to make financial decisions that impact the socio-economic livelihood of millions without regard for the excluded majority,” continued the Antiguan leader, stating that economic prosperity should be shared equally among and within countries.
“The exclusive clubs of the G-8 (Group of Eight) and G20 (Group of 20 of the world’s industrialized powers) cannot repair the fragmented international financial system without due consideration of the majority of nations left on the outside with much to offer,” he declared.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said the global economy continues to be beset by uncertainty, compounded by the “lingering negative effects of the financial and economic crises.
“The global shocks have affected all our peoples. They threaten our communities; weaken our families, and challenge individuals everywhere, regardless of hemisphere or region, whether they live in developed or developing countries – situated in the North, South, East or West,” she said.
“Some have fewer options than others. This is a vicious ‘cycle of insecurity’,” she added. “We dare not forget that a significant proportion of the world’s poorest citizens live in ‘Middle Income Countries. This is a diverse group which includes large developing economies and Small Island Developing States, such as those in the Caribbean.
“Many of us face common challenges. Several are highly indebted and extremely vulnerable to external shocks and natural disasters. We face significant obstacles in our efforts to spur economic recovery and growth,” Simpson Miller continued.
“We are hampered by the volatility of energy and food prices, decreases in export commodity prices, and weak capital inflows. Increasing food prices cause untold hardships for many of our people, particularly the most vulnerable in our societies,” she said.
The Jamaican leader, therefore, urged that the region be given greater support to “build resilience to economic and environmental shocks.
“Reforms in global economic governance, including the international financial institutions, are required to take into account the need for special and differential treatment for small and vulnerable economies,” she said. “Refocusing of the development agenda in terms of financial flows, will also go a long way in helping to bolster our natural resilience and resolve,” Simpson Miller said.
Her Guyanese counterpart, Donald Ramotar, said continuing adverse conditions stymie global efforts at achieving internationally agreed-upon development objectives, noting that recovery from the global financial crisis is “at best incipient and sluggish.”
Although more resilient than in earlier times, he said the Caribbean and other developing countries “have paid a heavy price as a result of the present difficulties experienced in the world economy,” he said, stating that this is reflected in growth that is “generally lower than pre-crisis revels.”
Already grappling with adverse trading arrangements and the consequences of an “inconclusive and disappointing” Doha Development Round of Trade Negotiations, Ramotar said the plight of developing countries has been “made worse by the prolonged global slump.
“Much of the gains that were made in the pre-2008 period have been erased by the continuing difficulties in the world economy,” he said, stating that the small vulnerable economies of the Caribbean face “special challenges, compounded by generally high levels of indebtedness and failing export revenues.”
St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony noted that many of the decisions that affect the region are still made “solely and unilaterally in the capitals of others, and, at times, multilaterally in groups of five, or eight, or 20, or 30.
“Small islands are special places with special peculiarities that make us both unique, yet vulnerable,” he said. “Still, we know that if there is a willingness to support their growth and development, then small islands can be successful stories.”
He urged that Caribbean countries, because of their vulnerabilities, not be “deceptively classed as middle income on the mere basis of per capita,” adding that they should “not be subjected to such a measuring tool for determining whether a state can stand on its own.”
For instance, Anthony said small states, like his, are forced to become “even more indebted”, in the event of natural disasters, as they have to borrow to replace infrastructure, such as arterial roads and bridges,” without which our country’s economy would face further contraction.
“And, even in the face of this, we are further impacted by unilateral domestic measures implemented in major developed states that place no sensitivity to matters such as our dependence on tourism, making our destinations less desirable,” he said.
“And so, it means that development cannot be just about assistance but also means that small states require some fairness and balance in the world economic space,” Anthony added.
St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas said the “best-laid plans” by countries, such as his, are “repeatedly up-ended by decisions made in nations far beyond our shores.”
He said the current global economic crisis has been “particularly trying and, indeed, troublingly destabilizing” for many regional countries, adding that it has tested regional economic planners “to the limit.
“In no way of our making, the global economic crisis has severely complicated the task of governance in highly indebted middle income nations like mine,” he said.
“It has introduced both new variables and additional unknowns in our economic planning models and has, in a nutshell, thrust upon us a backdrop of global volatility that none of us could have anticipated, and which none of us welcome, which has created immense difficulties for our people,” the St. Kitts and Nevis’ leader said.
Despite assistance from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Union and many local, regional and international creditors, including the United Kingdom and the United States, Douglas said the region continues to face “significant challenges, especially in relation to the attainment of economic growth in the context of a very sluggish and uncertain global economy.
“The mammoth challenges and difficulties that our small island state faces underscore the need for greater attention paid to the issue of special and differentiated responsibilities in this rather trying era,” he said.
“And, indeed, it underscores the need for small, responsible nations like mine, in our relations with far larger and infinitely more powerful friends and allies to, nonetheless, have fair and calm paths to redress,” Douglas said.