The Caribbean and Africa possess complementary strengths in various sectors, making them natural trading partners. And, for successful trading and the enhancement of ties to occur, there needs to be direct airlift connectivity.
This is the view of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and Senior Minister Coordinating the Productive Sector, Kerrie Symmonds, who added that the airlift must be cost-effective to generate substantial interest.
Symmonds stated this while speaking virtually at the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries’ (BCSI) business forum panel discussion on Airlinking Prosperity: Bridging Trade and Services in The Caribbean and African Region.
He noted that, to date, Barbados had signed air services agreements with Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda and is in the process of discussing how to actualise the airlift.
“But an air service agreement is not something you can fly on. Therefore, you need to have, obviously, the airline. But before the airline can leave the ground, there has to be some economic framework, some substance that allows for this effort to make sense, otherwise you will have … a collapse,” the Minister explained.
He stressed that direct airlift between Barbados and Africa would be expensive and subsidising seats was not the ideal way. He proposed that to get started, the region should consider chartered flights; the use of technology as a tool for interconnectivity and trade, while promoting what each destination has to offer in business, services, culture, and leisure.
“There is, in my judgment, tremendous mutual interests on both sides of the Atlantic, Africa and in the Caribbean in building this bridge … and there are some things which are within our grasp immediately.
“Broadcasting can be done. Promotion of film and of our music helps us to build that cultural familiarity and an understanding of each other in a much better way, and I think we should go full blast on that, while even as we work then to put the nuts and bolts together on the more heavy lifting, which is really what the air services would require,” Minister Symmonds stated.
Also participating in the panel discussion were Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association, Dr Trisha Tannis; Director of Finance and Resource Management, of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, Neil Walters; and Associate, Afreximbank, Victor Mukete.
The overall consensus was that the two regions, though geographically separated, share historical, cultural, and economic ties that could present vast potential for economic growth and development in the face of rising costs across the world; and direct airlift along with technology is key.
They proposed for future trading and tourism to occur successfully, there must be public-private partnerships to foster trade and services; entrepreneurs need to be less “risk-averse” and open to exporting their products and services beyond the region; increase the use of technology and digital platforms, for example, fintech, blockchain, a regional virtual marketplace, and multi-destination tourism.
In addition, they also suggested tapping into investment and technical assistance available, for example Afreximbank, and for CARICOM to come together and address barriers to trade and standardisation issues, which would assist with getting accredited and having the requisite standards for trading internationally.