If successful, this would be a world away

from the Barbados of the 1980s, when British Airways’s Concorde, a now defunct supersonic passenger carrier, flew there, making it into one of the region’s VIP destinations. Ms Mottley announced in March that her

country needed to diversify its economy and was looking to establish an SEZ and attract for- eign direct investment (FDI) in manufacturing, technology and biogenetic engineering. Zoë Harries, a consultant advising the gov-

ernment on the launch of the SEZ, says the gov- ernment is looking at targeting finance, busi- ness services and life sciences — particularly pharmaceuticals and medical devices. “Many countries would like to have a high-

tech park, or a research and development lab, but that’s higherupthe value chain, so itmakes sense to go step-by-step and build on strengths that are already there,” she says, citing the prev- alence of the sugar cane, manufacturing, and food and beverage sectors in Barbados.

Learning fromhistory The example of Costa Rica looms large in the region. Following a severe economic crisis in the 1980s, the countrymoved from a model of import substitution to diversifying their exports, with a focus on high-tech exports, specifically in life sciences. The World Bank has since hailed the country as a “clear suc- cess story”. “In terms of competitiveness of FDI, they

need to have a SEZ,” Ms Harries remarks. “Is it going to be successful? That all depends onhow they model it and how they define their value proposition.” However, the talent pool in the country of

some287,000 people is limited,MsHarries adds. Free zones are not new in the region.

Jamaica, Aruba, and Trinidad and Tobago all have all established free zones, but none as con- siderable as in the Dominican Republic, which has 74 free zones. In November last year, DP World invested

roughly $114mto expand its dock at the Punta Caucedo port, with the aim of helping to turn the country into a regional logistics hub. Although the Dominican Republic’s tour-

ism industry only accounts for 16% of its gross domestic product, as compared to Barbados’s 30%, such a push towards a freer movement of goods and services adds to the changing land- scape of the Caribbean. Morten Johansen, CEO of DP World

Caucedo, which features a port terminal and free zone, says that the Dubai-based port opera- tor is looking to position the country to become “more competitive and to attract investment”, in line with broader trends of near-shoring and making supply chainsmore resilient It will collaborate with the government to

provide software tools so that the government can become more agile, he says, as technologi- cal agility is “equally important as infrastruc- ture”when it comes to generating connectivity.

June/July 2021 Numbers down: tourist numbers to the Caribbean fell by 64% between January and August 2020

Climate action However, following the major blow dealt to global supply chains by the pandemic, that con- nectivity may be further disrupted by more localised and potentially more devastating future climate shocks. In May, the Dominican Republic hosted the virtual Latin America and Caribbean ClimateWeek 2021, which called for an urgent ramp-up of regional climate action. In a 2019 paper, the IMF proposed that

countries vulnerable to climate change, such as the Caribbean islands, develop comprehensive disaster-resilience strategies together with development partners and other stakeholders. The international body has already piloted such strategies in Grenada andDominica, as away to coordinate and improve the efficiency of stake- holder support. Sònia Muñoz, division chief of Caribbean I

division at the IMF, says that the high upfront costs of building climate resilience, such as building infrastructure and buying insurance, mean that everyone has to play a role, from national governments to the international community. Mr Maharaj believes the key to future suc-

cess for the region, come what may, is integra- tion and knowledge. “I’m an optimist: first, I think that the efforts to establish a Caribbean single market and economy will be very much accelerated. Second, the future of the Caribbean really lies in the knowledge and expertise of its people, and so I see our economies being more knowledge-based.” With numerous free-trade agreements,

such as those signed between the Caribbean and Canada, the Caribbean and the UK, Mr Maharaj expects the region to become a gateway to other markets. “If we get it right, the Caribbean can be a beachhead.”■


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