The first AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) opened on Thursday in Barbados with Prime Minister Mia Mottley saying the two regions “have business to do” and asserting that it was only political will keeping the two regions from establishing direct air links.
Giving the keynote address at the start of the conference, which her government is hosting with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Mottley said while the existing political cooperation between Africa and the Caribbean is essential, it is not sufficient to reverse the under-development of either region.
She insisted that they had not fully tapped into the existing avenues for partnership, including business and tourism.
“The ability for us to be able to have a Caribbean Export-Import Bank with our partners in the African Export-Import Bank is too critical a possibility for us in this region and for unlocking further the benefits of the Caribbean Single Market and Single Economy for us to ignore at this stage,” Mottley said.
The prime minister had earlier promised the Afreximbank the same privileges and immunities extended to the Caribbean Development Bank if it sets up in the island.
“Similarly, the ability to share data to let us know what we all want and what we all need from each other, what our people like,” she she told those gathered at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
“The notion that Africa imports U.S. $4.5 billion in fish and Caricom only supplies one per cent when, in the words of Norman Washington Manley, ‘the Caribbean Sea is our patrimony’, when Suriname exports as much fish to Europe as it does every year – over 40 000 tonnes – we have business to do.”
Mottley also addressed the issue of air travel and the lack of direct air links between Africa and the Caribbean.
About 120 of the over 1 000 people registered for the conference, which will run until Sunday, arrived on the island on Wednesday on an Ethiopian Airlines chartered direct flight from Lagos, Nigeria.
Referring to Senegal’s Minister of Economy, Planning, and International Cooperation Amadou Hott saying earlier in the ceremony that it took more than a day to reach Bridgetown from his country, the prime minister insisted that “it can only be a mindset that stops a plane from travelling 2 000 kilometres less between Bridgetown and Dakar than between Bridgetown and London”.
“Ordinary citizens of ours do not have the luxury of presenting for official visas where those exist – not to our countries because we have all removed them,” she said.
“But if the only way to get there is through North America and Europe, then how will you get the transit visa to move people here if we don’t build the bridge across the Atlantic through air bridges?.
“I have spoken to enough people in the last three years to know that this is now an act of political will and individual will.”
Mottley, referring to the Tipsy All-White Party during this year’s Crop Over Festival, where Afrobeats singer Burna Boy was the headline act, added: “Going where no one has gone before is never easy, but you can’t have Burna Boy bring out 20 000 people into Barbados, command what he commands in Nigeria and Africa, our own dear Right Excellent Rihanna the same, and not believe that we can’t open up the appetite of our people to travel to each other’s countries.”
Following the opening ceremony, representatives of several Caribbean countries signed a partnership agreement with Afreximbank aimed at promoting and financing South-South trade and investment and the Caribbean.