By Shermain Bique-Charles
Foreign Affairs Minister EP Chet Greene used a recent forum with the US Secretary of State to push for Covid-19 vaccines for Caricom countries, including Antigua and Barbuda.
Greene was addressing a virtual meeting between Caricom foreign affairs ministers and Antony Blinken.
He reminded attendees that the US has a beneficial relationship with Caricom countries in crucial areas including trade, curbing drug trafficking, halting money laundering and organised crime, and as a peaceful nearby location posing no terrorist threat.
Furthermore, he said the US also enjoys a perennial trade surplus with Caricom. Last year, despite the pandemic, this trade surplus was US$6.5 billion, while official development assistance to Caricom countries is less than one percent of US aid worldwide.
This situation, according to Greene, has led to the participation of other nations in Caricom economies, with the provision of soft loans and grants for needed infrastructural development projects.
Most Caricom countries are stable, representative democracies which are maintained because of economic development, however, Greene said the Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked their economies.
“Mr Secretary of State, for emphasis I reiterate our urgent need for vaccines to open our economies and avoid travel advisories. We would welcome urgent US help,” he said.
Greene also reiterated the need for low-cost financing and grants from international financial institutions, saying the current rules that disqualify many Caribbean counties from access to concessionary funding must be widened to take into account the region’s profound vulnerabilities.
Additionally, debt should be forgiven and repayments deferred on easier terms, Greene said.
“In the parlous economic state of most Caricom countries, repaying debt on existing terms is near impossible. The UN has already said that the Caribbean will face ‘a lost decade’ with economies and per capita income declining to 2010 levels,” Greene added.
Meanwhile, Greene lamented that a US State Department international narcotics report which describes Caricom states as ‘major money launderers’ is affecting the capacity of Caribbean banks to transact business.
“This State Department report is not supported by the FATF [Financial Action Task Force] or the OECD which conduct regular reviews. We would welcome your attention to this,” he said.
If these economic conditions are not addressed soon, Greene said many Caricom countries face a crumbling of their security systems which organised crime will exploit to the detriment of both the region and the US. Inevitably, there will also be a surge in refugees, he said.
He reminded Blinken that the US has enjoyed political stability on its ‘third border’, precisely because most Caricom countries have vigorously pursued economic development.
“We urge a deepening and widening of our economic cooperation in our joint interest,” Greene concluded.
Several Caribbean island nations have issued a plea to the US to share its stockpile of Covid-19 vaccines with the region in the same way it is assisting Mexico and Canada.
The tourism-dependent economies of Caribbean nations are among those that have been most ravaged by the pandemic, which has devastated the travel industry, forcing the already debt-laden region to take on new loans.
Last month, Prime Minister Gaston Browne requested that Caricom countries be included in the provision of AstraZeneca vaccines the US is sending to Canada and Mexico.
The US president has not yet responded to that request, or acknowledged receipt of Browne’s letter.