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Caribbean Growth Forum — an idea whose time has come

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Our national preoccupation with the Jamaica 50th song controversy no doubt overshadowed the launch and inaugural session of the Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF) which was held at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies last Monday and Tuesday.

That, of course, is unfortunate, given the importance of this exercise.

The CGF is an initiative of the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank in collaboration with the UK Agency for International Development and the Canadian International Development Agency. The objective is to identify practical economic policy to induce sustainable economic growth in the Caribbean. It couldn't have come at a better time.

The countries of the Caribbean region have experienced low rates of economic growth in recent years, particularly since the onset of the global economic crisis. The dire circumstances of the region are the result of long-term structural peculiarities, inept policies, erosion of trade preference, small size, poor fiscal management and proneness to natural disasters.

The global financial debacle compounded the Caribbean situation because of its adverse impact on tourism, remittances, oil prices, export earnings, and foreign investment. These indigenous and exogenous factors combined to produce other constraints, in particular, debt and unsustainable fiscal deficits.

The region is deep in a major economic crisis, a situation which cannot continue. Therefore, new strategies for economic development are necessary and must be designed and implemented with great urgency. The CGF is seeking to help the region work its way out of its economic malaise by "thinking outside of the proverbial box".

To that end, the CGF has assembled experts from within the region and from across the world. Happily there were very few of the politicians and perennial officials from governments and regional institutions who are the architects of the "policy box" that the region desperately needs to think out of.

They will initiate the discussions on a raft of subjects under the overarching themes of competitiveness, entrepreneurship and innovation. The issues include international trade, tourism, human capital, sustainable development, economic convergence, creating a skilled workforce, and improving access to finance.

Gone are many of the usual subject categories which have framed previous discussions, eg regional integration, development assistance, natural disasters and preferential trade arrangements.

We salute with pride Miss Roland Pryce of Jamaica, the co-ordinator of the Caribbean Growth Forum for the World Bank, on a job well done.

We note with some disappointment that the initiative did not come from Caricom governments. It was left to the international institutions, which would normally provide the resources, to mount something the region should have done for itself. Not that it comes as any surprise because Caricom has not yet formulated a regional response to the global economic crisis which started in late 2007.

It is the lack of vision of the political leadership which is one of the main causes of the economic crisis of Caricom. We at this newspaper are regionalists to the core and big backers of Caricom, but we can't help feeling impatient at the slow pace of progress.

That said, we heartily, and with much hope, welcome the Caribbean Growth Forum.

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