7th Caribbean Development Roundtable focusses on recovery, repositioning and resilience

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The 7th Caribbean Development Roundtable (CDR) this year focused on recovery and repositioning, with a view to finding practical and workable solutions to invest in resilience, economic recovery and sustained growth. The CDR was also updated on the progress made towards the establishment of the Caribbean Resilience Fund (CRF).

Convened by ECLAC Caribbean, and hosted by the Government of Suriname, the CDR was officially opened by the outgoing Chair, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Keisal Peters. The meeting was held at the Royal Torarica Hotel, in Paramaribo, Suriname.

The Roundtable, Minister Peters said, was conceived as a forum to discuss critical issues that pose fundamental challenge to development in the Caribbean, and to explore solutions that will ultimately support inclusive growth and better living standards for our people, while protecting our environment. Reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister Peters noted that the pandemic has reversed some of the hard-won gains achieved in growing the economies of Caribbean countries, and in reducing unemployment and inequality.

“The pandemic battered our leading sectors, particularly tourism, commerce and distribution. Compounding these, the subregion was buffeted by natural disasters. The eruption of La Soufrière had devastating impact on my own country, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, while here in Suriname and neighbouring Guyana had major floods, there was an earthquake in Haiti and numerous storms crossing the Caribbean.”

ECLAC Caribbean Director, Diane Quarless, underscored ECLAC’s position on the need for economic diversification in the Caribbean, which she said is integral to durable recovery and resilience building. Quarless stated that this requires investment in production and industry, and therefore, investment in people. “We at ECLAC have long promoted the idea of long-term planning and the development of industrial policies aimed at identifying new sector and actors, and new sources of finance. This implies the need for improvement in the business environment, with a more dynamic partnership between the government and the private sector.”

The Roundtable recognized that while the prospects for the Caribbean to adequately meet its development needs have been seriously constrained, new opportunities have arisen, both international and regional. These may provide potential support for the subregion’s efforts to find a robust recovery, and to become more resilient, through global partnerships.

Quarless highlighted that the first area of considerable interest is the creation of innovative financing instruments to access finance for development especially in areas of need such as renewable energy and risk insurance. “We encourage all to recognize our efforts towards the establishment of a Caribbean Resilience Fund (CRF), in response to the need for the creation of instruments that provide for long-term low-cost financing, so to ease the debt service burden and liquidity constraints that have been stifling investment in innovation and resilience in the heavily indebted middle income countries of the subregion,” she said.

The two day meeting explored the prospect of effective advocacy, towards leveraging global concessional and domestic sources of finance, and considered how such programs might be scaled up to be effective.

Five important areas were discussed, in separate panels. These were: (1) Vulnerability, debt and liquidity in the Caribbean; (2) Vulnerability in small middle-Income Caribbean countries; (3) Data and statistical capacity needs of the Caribbean; (4) Global partnership for repositioning, recovery and resilience in the Caribbean; and (5) Economic restructuring and diversification towards deepening the integration of the Caribbean into Latin America and the Global Economy.

The first panel topic identified that the issues of vulnerability, debt and liquidity lie at the heart of the Caribbean challenge to address sustainable development. Urgently needed is long-term, readily accessible and affordable financing for investment in recovery, resilience, economic transformation and growth. ECLAC’s proposed response to this need is the CRF, which will ensure the availability of resources to the Caribbean for investment in adaptation and mitigation initiatives. ECLAC has also initiated a series of Liquidity Management Operations to address the rising debt and liquidity challenges in select pilot countries. The Roundtable provided an update on these initiatives and their role in addressing critical resource gaps in the subregion.

Another panel discussed the ongoing challenge faced by Caribbean countries in accessing affordable financing. It addressed the fact that insufficient consideration is given to the relentless exposure of these countries to exogenous shocks, recovery from which invariably takes several years. To counter this, the subregion recognizes the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, which was created by a High-Level Panel commissioned by Secretary General, António Guterres.

Another panel discussed the data and statistical capacity needs of the Caribbean. The production of quality data in a timely and consistent manner is a challenge for most Caribbean countries. This challenge covers a broad spectrum that includes limited indigenous technical capacity, scarcity of statistical expertise, high turn-over of staff, and insufficient funding of national statistical offices. The panel noted that the paucity of official statistics in the subregion, has inevitably hindered the effectiveness of mechanisms for monitoring and measuring progress in the achievement of national development priorities. One example of this is the Caribbean’s record in reporting on the SDGs, which has thus far reflected a stark reality of the significant data gap. Panellists explored their own experiences in the statistical ecosystem of the Caribbean, and proposed options for strengthening the statistical capacity of the subregion.

The Roundtable, as a platform for affirming the importance of global solidarity and partnership in supporting and advancing the development aspirations of the Caribbean, was the focus of another panel. The discussions centred around the need to increase competitiveness, to advance technological capacity in a more digitized world and to secure the welfare of all. It was noted that strong international cooperation is needed now more than ever, to ensure that countries have the means to recover from lingering pandemic and climate impacts, while shouldering heavy debt and debt servicing obligations.

The last panel noted that opportunities for global partnership will need to be complemented by national and intra-regional initiatives, if the subregion is to benefit fully from changing circumstances. In this spirit, the panel examined strategies aimed at promoting economic restructuring and diversification which are critical in addressing negative external shocks. Special attention was given to the strengthening of such sectors as tourism and agriculture, taking into account the need to factor youth and women more integrally in strategies for economic transformation.

In closing the meeting, Minister Peters expressed her support for ECLAC’s proposed CRF, as she described it as a tool to leverage long-term, affordable finance to tackle the challenges of climate vulnerability and limited liquidity. “I was especially pleased with the proposals for debt restructuring and liquidity enhancement that will be welcomed by cash-strapped governments. The importance and value of parametric insurance provided through the CCRIF SPC to deliver more optimal coverage for climate risks was also a very welcome part of our dialogue. We took note that the CCRIF is innovating in providing new products, including its micro-insurance scheme for small farmers and fisherfolk for shock response.”

Participants at the CDR included regional and international development thinkers and practitioners, leaders and senior policy makers from ECLAC member States and associate member countries, representatives of the UN System, regional and international financial institutions, academia and civil society, including the private sector, as well as other development partners.