During his visit to Nassau Institute in June 2007, James Shikwati, Director Inter Region Economic Network was interviewed by Jeffrey Lloyd of Radio Station ‘More FM’ in Nassau – Bahamas. The one and a half hour interview conducted on June 20, 2007, focused on economic issues.
Below are some of the excerpts (This is a continuation of last week’s Africans Must Rebuild their Confidence):
Jeffrey: I think you have the East African Community. In this region, there is the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), a trade grouping involving countries in the Caribbean. The CSME is something that the Bahamians have resisted. Its people don’t want it. It says “we’ve got nothing to trade with the rest of the Caribbean; we buy less than 1 percent of our goods from the Caribbean. We don’t want these people coming here and so on.” Do trading blocs make sense?
Shikwati: The East African Community came into being some 5 years ago and the products of the member countries are basically the same. Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are all producers of coffee, tea, and wheat among others. One would ask why they need a trading bloc when they produce the same thing. But, looking at the history of Africa, it goes back to links with the colonialist government. Uganda wants to export coffee to Britain, so does Kenya and Tanzania. But in East Africa, we have a population of 100 million people. No one is looking at how we can address this market. Kenyans can say that they don’t have a market for coffee while a British Company will come to Kenya, set up a coffee shop and start supplying coffee to Kenyans, yet Kenyans produce coffee! Caribbeans must be having a product they can add value to and supply to the Caribbean market. It is important to get out and meet other people who will challenge you and your beliefs. In East Africa now, so many entrepreneurs are moving to Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. We are already talking about an East African stock market.
China is a giant now because it is a huge market: 1 million-plus people. The Caribbean’s should ask themselves whether they want to set up a business of 300,000 people or 20 million people.
Jeffrey: Are we scientifically removing emotions from the picture when the Bahamians say, “the people from the south are coming here because we’ve got money and they don’t, they are coming to lower our living standard?”
Shikwati: Those are emotions. We are supposed to say, “if they are coming for lower wages, why don’t you set up a business and employ them?” You will be more productive than you are at the moment. If the Bahamians are stronger, they should become the giants; let Jamaica say they are afraid of Bahamians because they come to set up industries. A stronger economy should take advantage and roll out to other markets.
Jeffrey: What do you say to those who feel their sovereignty has been compromised? What do you say to Bahamians who say that their government is no longer looking out for Bahamians, but going to the areas with the cheapest labor or the jurisdiction where its less cumbersome in terms of regulations, taxes and costs like the American companies did when they outsourced to India?
Shikwati: When Americans outsourced in India, did the American peoples’ sovereignty get compromised? Did the Indians’ sovereignty get compromised? When it comes to trade, your sovereignty becomes strengthened as you have something to show elsewhere. Bahamians should worry about whether they can produce, be a market place, and offer something. If they did that as individuals, they are going to strengthen their government when it’s negotiating. If they expect the government to safeguard their sovereignty when they have nothing to show, the government will be talking hot air while they have nothing to offer.
In Africa for example, every time we talk about the European Union subsidizing their markets and making it difficult to sell our products, the question has always been, “if the EU stopped subsidizing their farmers, will Africa’s products be ready for export to Europe?” The answer is No. Why? We are crying sovereignty but doing nothing as people. We need to strengthen our productive activity so that even when the government is negotiating, it has something it can put on the table.