David Jessop writes about how Caribbean countries need to find ways to benefit from a relationship with China. What is still missing, he says, is significant public debate about how it might develop. Here are excerpts:
If history is not to repeat itself and the region is to gain from China’s carefully expressed desire for a special relationship, much will depend on recognising this, and channelling Beijing’s support in ways that have long-term, lasting and mutual value. [. . .] For Chinese support to be truly beneficial to the Caribbean the region needs to do much more to seize the economic opportunity and find practical ways in which those in the real economy might benefit.
It is one thing for Chinese companies using Chinese workers to find opportunity in construction, infrastructure or investment projects that will be Chinese delivered or owned on often surprisingly favourable terms, and yet quite another for Caribbean business to find opportunities in China, provide services or establish ties that will bring growth and development to the region.
In practical terms this means that if the region is also to benefit, Caribbean business has to find ways to partner with Chinese companies, develop joint ventures in manufacturing in the Caribbean for the US and Latin American markets, identify higher value added goods and services for which there might be a market in China or with Chinese business into other parts of the world, and to more generally become active in seeking opportunity in China or with Chinese counterparts.
More specifically this will require financing and larger regional companies to visit to explain the nature of Caribbean business and regional commercial norms to Chinese entrepreneurs; or to suggest, for instance, that the region could become a base for joint ventures to manufacture goods that for instance might access the European, US, Canadian markets under existing or new trade arrangements making use of Chinese inputs coming through an enlarged Panama Canal. Chinese officials are presently discussing some of this with Caribbean Export and other development agencies in the region, but what is needed is for a small number of leading Caribbean companies in the region to begin to explore at, for instance, trade fairs in China, how new partnerships might be created and financed in the region.
Likewise the tourism sector, both public and private, also needs to respond to the ideas floated by China in Trinidad last year, not just to bring visitors to the region but to deepen co-operation and exchanges to develop mutually beneficial enterprises and institutional support. Significantly, though, there are many straws in the wind: China is upgrading its diplomatic facilities across the region; [. . .] is exploring with some nations such as Suriname double tax agreements and visa waiver arrangements; and is providing equipment to a number of Caricom defence and police forces.
It also signed eight agreements during the recent visit of Cuba’s President, Raul Castro, to Beijing that may see much greater Chinese involvement in many aspects of the Cuban economy including the construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure, port development, oil exploration, health care facilities, and in agriculture in relation to food production and export.
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