Summit of the Americas and the regional private sector

Next month’s Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain will present the first and, perhaps, the most important opportunity to lay the foundation for a long-term relationship between the Caribbean and the new Obama administration in the United States.

President Obama’s first visit to the region will almost certainly be welcomed warmly by both Caribbean Heads and Caribbean peoples, the overwhelming majority of whom literally willed him into the White House.

After the initial warmth and adulation, however, the rest of the agenda is likely to be all business since what comes out of the summit, particularly in terms of an economic agenda for US/Caribbean relations may well determine to a considerable extent how Caribbean economies fare in the period ahead.

One expects that high on the Caribbean agenda will be what is already emerging as the devastating impact of the recession in the United States on Caribbean remittance flows, consumer spending, markets, jobs and, in sum, the economies of the region. And while we expect that President Obama will want his first engagement with the region’s governments to provide assurances of Washington’s commitment to supporting the region at this difficult time, the point must be made that the United States President is facing monumental challenges of his own in seeking to heal the worst recession in more than half a century in his own country.

Even if some measure of direct aid to the region is forthcoming, the opportunities for the Caribbean to benefit from what, for all its difficulties, remains the world’s most powerful economy, may well lie in the strengthening of private sector ties between the United States and the Caribbean. In this regard the Summit may well be the best opportunity that the region will have to ‘sell’ itself as a market for US investments.
Setting aside the importance of the exchanges between the Obama delegation and the region’s governments on matters that will have to do with giving shape  to political and economic relations between the USA and the Caribbean, the private sector forum which takes place prior to the actual summit may well prove just as important – if not more important – in terms of addressing the creation of the building blocks for an acceleration of business ties between Washington and the region.

One imagines, for example, that the pre-summit private sector forum may address issues like possible US private sector investments in various Caribbean enterprises including – in the case of Guyana –  sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and Information Technology. What the forum will certainly do is to provide the regional private sector with an opportunity to make a unified case for US investment in the region, an approach that will allow potential investors to secure a sort of bird’s eye view of what the Caribbean has to offer from an investment standpoint.

The particular advantage of a private sector forum as part of such a significant Summit is that it allows both President Obama and the Caricom Heads the opportunity to take particular note of the private sector deliberations and to throw their weight behind the notion of stronger business ties between the USA and the Caribbean. That, most assuredly, will fuel the process.

From that perspective alone the private sector forum is an excellent idea since it provides the private sector with an opportunity to literally immerse itself in the process of helping to shape the region’s relations with the United States.

Whether, perhaps the regional private sector can take the deliberation in Port-of-Spain beyond the Summit of the Americas forum and use their deliberations to address other critical intra-regional issues like how to give expression to the EPA and how to hasten the pace of the Single Market is also worth a thought. Certainly, Port-of-Spain provides a great opportunity for the kind of exchange of views and working out of collective strategies that may well see the regional private sector inserting itself effectively into the process of finding solutions to the crisis facing the region.

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