The Afri-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum, held in September in Barbados, represented a historic moment in Africa-Caribbean relations.
Hundreds of years after the slave trade wrenched millions of Africans from their homes to a brutal life across the Atlantic, this era-defining summit, organised by Afreximbank, succeeded in reigniting the historic links between Africa and the Caribbean – a crucial member of the African diaspora, defined by the African Union as the continent’s sixth region.
The need was great: trade between the two regions remains low. Africa accounts for only 4.4% of the $18.8bn worth of goods exported from the Caribbean annually, while only supplying about $603m of the $33bn imported into the region. It is believed that trade between the two regions could be increased to as much as $11bn annually.
The outcomes of the Forum were substantial – the partners pledged the implementation of a strategic partnership between the business communities in Africa and the Caribbean with the objective of fostering bilateral cooperation and engagement in trade, investment, technology transfer, innovation, transport, tourism, culture and other services.
Key among the signings was the Partnership Agreement between the Afreximbank and an initial seven of the 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.
But from the start, Afreximbank was clear that the Forum would not just be a one-off, but would usher in a new era in economic relations. Afreximbank had already built strong links with the Caribbean during the pandemic, when the African Medical Supplies Platform, backed by Afreximbank, helped source personal protective equipment, testing kits and other supplies that African and Caribbean countries needed to protect citizens during the pandemic,
But since the Forum, Afreximbank President Benedict Oramah has been relentless in pursuing even greater relations with Caribbean partners.
Addressing Caribbean leaders during the 44th Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Nassau, The Bahamas, in February, Professor Oramah lamented that “for so many decades, the global capitalist economy, built on the sweat and blood of African slaves, has remained an unbearable burden on the shoulders of Africans; we are now poised to make it work for us.”
“It is capital, owned, controlled and deployed by us, and not by others, that has the best chance of turning the iniquities of that sad history into an asset for a fresh new beginning of shared prosperity.”
He revealed that, in just under six months since the Partnership Agreement was opened for signature, Afreximbank had put in motion arrangements to set up a Caribbean Regional Office to drive its interventions across the CARICOM States, and revealed that the Bank’s Board of Directors had approved a limit of $1.5bn for current signatories of the Participation Agreement, with that limit set to rise to $3bn when all CARICOM countries join.
That was no idle boast – by April, Afreximbank had confirmed that 11 out of the 15 CARICOM Member States had signed the Agreement, which confers upon the signatories the status akin to those held by Africa Participating States and consolidates the Bank’s efforts to promote and develop South-South trade.
It was also in April that Afreximbank confirmed that its Board of Directors had approved the opening of the Bank’s CARICOM Office to be established in Barbados; a step hailed by Oramah as crucial.
“There are enormous opportunities to scale the trade and investment flows between the African continent and the broader African diaspora. Investment flows between Africa and the Caribbean are currently almost non-existent. This strategic partnership will open the door for enhanced trade and investment between Africa and the Caribbean. We are poised to right the wrongs of the middle passage. This approval is an important step towards that end.”
At time of writing 11 countries have signed up. When all CARICOM countries join – as Afreximbank expects they shall – it is clear that the Caribbean diaspora will be able to play a crucial role as Africa’s sixth region. n