The first ever AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) opened on Thursday with host Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley saying the two regions “have business to do” and asserting that it was only political will keeping the two regions from establishing direct air links.
Giving the keynote address at the start of the September 1-3 conference which her government is hosting with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Mottley said while the existing political cooperation between Africa and the Caribbean is essential, it is not sufficient to reverse the underdevelopment of either region.
She insisted they had not fully tapped into the existing avenues for partnership, including business and tourism.
“The ability for us to be able to have a Caribbean Export-Import Bank with our partners in the African Export-Import Bank is too critical a possibility for us in this region and for unlocking further the benefits of the Caribbean Single Market and Single Economy for us to ignore at this stage,” said Mottley who had earlier promised the Afreximbank the same privileges and immunities extended to the Caribbean Development Bank if it sets up there.
“Similarly, the ability to share data to let us know what we all want and what we all need from each other, what our people like. The notion that Africa imports US$4.5 billion in fish and CARICOM only supplies one percent when, in the words of Norman Washington Manley, ‘the Caribbean Sea is our patrimony’, when Suriname exports as much fish to Europe as it does every year – over 40,000 tonnes – we have a business to do,” she told those gathered at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
The Barbadian leader also addressed the issue of air travel and the lack of direct air links between Africa and the Caribbean.
About 120 of the over 1,000 people registered for the conference arrived on the island on Wednesday on an Ethiopian Airlines chartered direct flight from Lagos, Nigeria.
Referring to Senegal’s Minister of Economy, Planning, and International Cooperation Amadou Hott saying earlier in the ceremony that it took more than a day to reach Barbados from his country, Prime Minister Mottley insisted that “it can only be a mindset that stops a plane from traveling 2,000 km less between Bridgetown and Dakar than between Bridgetown and London”.
Prime Minister Mottley, referring to an event during the recent Crop Over Festival which Afrobeats singer Burna Boy headlined, added: “Going where no one has gone before is never easy, but you can’t have Burna Boy bring out 20,000 people in Barbados, command what he commands in Nigeria and Africa, our own dear Right Excellent Rihanna the same, and not believe that we can’t open up the appetite of our people to travel to each other’s countries.”
Hott, who gave remarks on behalf of the President of Senegal and Chairman of the African Union, Macky Sall, said it is urgent that African and Caribbean communities are brought together physically.