Opinion September 9, 2016 | 9:51 am

The changing face of the Caribbean

Over the next ten years it is likely that the ways in whichwe all think about the Caribbean will change radically.

Oil and gas discoveries in countries once seen as being atthe margins of the region; deep water ports offering close access to theenlarged Panama Canal; consequent opportunities to become a manufacturing andassembly hub for the Americas; the continuing development of tourism; and theregion’s expansion as a well-regulated offshore financial services provider,all suggest new opportunity and economic growth.

They imply a migration in the Caribbean’s economic andpolitical centre of gravity to those nations with clear plans to take advantageof their human and natural resources and their location.

They are developments that make the case for the region tobe more confident, outward looking, better able to make a positive case in theworld, and to begin to encourage new thinking at home about what lies just overthe horizon.

Unfortunately, as matters stand, few Caribbean leaders inthe Anglophone Caribbean, whether in government or in opposition, or in much ofinstitutionalised academia, yet see the region in this way, or try to analysethe implications. Instead, it is more common to hear repeated the rhetoric ofthe past of disadvantage, exploitation and colonial legacy.

While there will always be a strong case for stating thehistoric social wrongs that the Caribbean has suffered, at issue now is how tobalance this objectively with what lies ahead, leaving behind the politics ofmendacity by changing the nature of the region’s discourse.

A number of materialfactors make the case for being positive.

It quite possible to imagine, a decade from now, severalnations with small populations becoming energy rich net exporters of oil andgas, with problems associated with wealth that hardly anybody in the region orbeyond has previously given much thought to.

This is not to downplay the present low price of oil, butto emphasise that present interest is occurring at a time when every oil andgas company has cut back on its expenditure, suggesting that the CaribbeanBasin offers an interesting long-term stable prospect.

As matters stand, oil and in some cases gas, have beenfound in exploitable quantities off Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, andBelize. In the case of Guyana, the finds there by Exxon which it has describedas ‘world class’, are significant enough for Government to be looking at thecreation of a sovereign wealth fund.

Beyond this, huge sums are, or are likely to be, investedby major oil and gas companies from the US, the UK, China, Russia, Australiaand elsewhere in prospecting off the coasts of Barbados, the Bahamas, Cuba,Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, in addition to furtherexploiting Trinidad’s maturing oil and gas reserve. Moreover, there is aninterest in onshore oil and gas in the Dominican Republic and Haiti and thepossibility of exploitable new onshore finds in Cuba. In addition, there is thereal prospect, when delimitation talks between Cuba, the US and Mexico concludeon an area with acknowledged deposits of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexicoknown as the Western Polygon, that exploration will begin there.

Where oil is discovered, huge infrastructural investmentsfollow. For example, in the case of Guyana, where Exxon says that it plans toexploit its discovery in 2020, Government has said that it will establish anonshore oil and gas facility and will, with local and international investors,develop the infrastructure needed for a logistics and supply base. It togetherwith the wealth that will flow is also considered likely to trigger other-longconsidered investments relating to port development, road infrastructure, andcloser links to Brazil.

Such finds of course bring challenges, for example relatingto security or corruption, they also raise questions about the industry’scompatibility with tourism and fisheries, and make clear the need for soundlegal and regulatory frameworks, and for civil society to be more closelyengaged in the process.

A second reason to be positive about the outlook for theregion is the opportunity offered by the opening of the enlarged Panama Canalin June this year.

As port developments in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic,the Bahamas and Cuba demonstrate, the northern end of the Caribbean is movingnot just to become a transhipment centre and logistics hub for hemispheric andinternational trade, but over time will be able to attract assembly andmanufacturing operations, if astutely promoted.

When it comes to tourism it has almost become a cliché torefer to the Caribbean being the most tourism dependent region in the world.That said, within the expression and its implication of over reliance, liesopportunity. Through investment, improved marketing and global internationalpositioning there is a real prospect of increasing the value of the industry bymoving it to a higher level in terms of facilities, service, cuisine andperception. As a relatively mature industry, what it now needs is value to beadded in ways that those who work in it, who own it, and who tax it, allbenefit.

Likewise, there is a bright future for the expansion ofCaribbean financial services and related forms of support.

Although there have been setbacks in recent years as aresult of the changing global regulatory environment, Cayman, the BVI, Barbadosand the Bahamas all have solid reputations, and with recent changes inoversight and reporting remain attractive as locations though which all sortsof legitimate financial transactions and corporate structuring is possible.

For all these reasons the time is right for a manifesto forthe Caribbean to emerge. That is to say one produced by the region’s moreoutward looking younger generation, that explores what change may mean and howbest to promote regionally and internationally new thinking about what willlikely become a very different Caribbean space.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council andcan be contacted at david.jessop@caribbean-council.org

Previous columns be found at www.caribbean-council.org

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