Caribbean nations need to take measures to help themselves to become more resilient, including launching “a frontal attack” on high energy costs, the head of the Caribbean Development Bank said Thursday as he wrapped up a two-day gathering in Guyana.
Warren Smith said the region’s over dependence on imported oil must be shifted to renewable energy sources. His assertions have been echoed by other institutions, including the Inter-American Development Bank, which last year held a conference in Washington to address the urgency of the matter.
“It is core to the Caribbean reality,” Warren added. “If we are going to build stronger, more prosperous economies, we have to come to terms with the issue of resilience and what is required to make us more resilient.”
Smith opened the annual gathering of CDB member countries by addressing the role of the high price of electricity in the region’s inability to sustain external shocks and be competitive. The region’s competitiveness problem, he said, was at the root of its difficulty in achieving the high rates of economic growth that governments needed to improve standards of living.
“We cannot transform the Caribbean’s competitiveness landscape without a frontal attack on energy costs and the generally poor state of our electricity infrastructure,” he said.
The economic outlook for the Caribbean has been a mixed bag. The global recession forced many nations deeper into debts as development projects came to a halt, tourism arrivals and hotel occupancy rates dropped and food prices rose. Others such as Jamaica and Grenada have had to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a financial bailout, while Barbados has laid off civil servants and other countries, such as St. Lucia, now consider legislating pay cuts.
“The result has been retarded growth, fiscal stress and unsustainable debt,” Guyana’s Foreign Minister Ashni K. Singh said. “That is where we are today, 50 years on, at a place where in some instances the very viability of the vulnerable small state of the Caribbean appears under threat.”
Singh said the meetings with the regional bank governors were “very grueling, very intensive,” but also “extremely fruitful, favorable and strong.”
“The bank has continued to deliver and discharge its mandate in the region,” he said.
Prior to the gathering, the bank announced that it’s own financial outlook had been revised by Standard and Poor’s (S&P) from “negative” to “stable.”
It was agreed that going forward, part of the bank’s strategic focus should be to not just help in the reduction of poverty in the region but also with sustainable growth by assisting nations’ in making the shift to a green economy, supporting entrepreneurs and working with the private sector.
And for those countries that still find themselves in financial difficulty, Smith said, “we are ready and willing to provide the assistance that is necessary.”