In January, Cris Heaton, from Money Week's online magazine, wrote a piece that cited the robust performance of emerging economies such as Brazil, India and Indonesia, that were doing well despite the global downturn. He made a case that whilst they traded outwards, they also had a domestic fallback that buoyed the performance of their economies. Subsequently, other analysts have pointed towards the pleasing behaviour of emerging countries.
Looking at the wider global picture, Larry Elliott, an Economics Editor with The Guardian newspaper recently wrote, The eurozone economy contracted in late 2011 for the first time since the depth of the global recession as the struggle to save the single currency took its toll on growth across the 17-nation region_.. analysts warned that there was still a strong risk of a further drop in activity in the first quarter of 2012 thereby fulfilling the technical definition of a recession.
Not very encouraging news.
Within the UK, there are mixed views as to where the recovery is headed. On one hand the Bank of England's Chief, Sir Mervyn King stated, The UK economy will "zigzag" this year, dipping in and out of growth, but avoid going back into recession. Then on the other hand, we have Vicky Redwood who is an analyst at Capital Economics, warning that the gloomy outlook for Europe would weigh heavily on the British economy during this year and make it more difficult for the coalition government to rebalance the economy towards exports.
I suppose the positive spin to take from both views is that they are not predicting a wholesale fall back into a full recession, as was the fear closing out 2011, going into the early stages of 2012. There is still a long way to go in this recovery process and it is looking to be a tough trek back to the summit.
Over in the United States, recent jobs numbers, driven by a boom in manufacturing, have provided a most needed flicker of hope for President Obama as he seeks to sell his campaign line of a recovering US economy.
So, for all the mixed signs we are seeing across the global economy, what does this translate to for the recovery process within small island Caribbean economies such as Montserrat, Anguilla, Antigua, St Kitts/Nevis and the like?
I am of the view that these economies, seeking to revive their economic fortunes by solely focusing on tourism are limiting themselves for the new global economy that will emerge from this economic crisis. I will explain my position further. For small island economies within the region to redeem themselves and cater to the economic, social and infrastructural development needs of their various countries, a huge proportion of this revival should be encouraged from within. What are the industries of the future, or areas of focus than can be catalysts for growth and investment? I have looked at islands in the Caribbean; from powerhouses of Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados to smaller developing economies like Montserrat, and have thought of four potential themes that can be game changers for the future:
1. Investing In Information Communication Technologies: Embracing The Information Age
I have great admiration for the leadership shown by The Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation, in association with the Government of Barbados, to set the island on a path towards free wi fi access island wide. CEO of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation, Damian McKinney said, The project is fundamental to propelling Barbados to the centre of global business with the incremental proliferation of free Wi-fi hotspots, which in turn will enable new business opportunities and innovations_while Barbados enjoys a literacy rate of an estimated 99.7%, it is now an indisputable fact that internet literacy is the new necessary paradigm.
Beautiful! I agree unreservedly with McKinney that investment in information communication technologies is an absolute basic requirement towards positioning small island economies to compete with a fast moving and rapidly advancing global business climate. The exchange of information via electronic mediums is now the global norm, therefore, so as not be left behind, as I stated to the Premier of Montserrat on numerous occasions, let us seek to become what I term 'traders in information'. It is encouraging to hear that the first draft of an ICT strategy is to be delivered soon. I pray that this document will not be a dust magnet but be put to use as a focal point for national development.
2. Promoting Manufacturing For Local & Export Markets
How truly sustainable is an economy that imports almost 100% of everything required for local consumption? It is bad policy, in my opinion, to think that any emerging country can plan for growth, and yet not look to develop its manufacturing and export base.
Persons such as Denzel with his leather products manufacturing business, others such as Junie Irish with his impressive furniture making business, Prince with his well respected cassava bread business, makers of guava cheese and gauva jelly, along with other products; what more can be done to harness collective strength and make these businesses grow to become bigger players outside of a purely localised market. Or even so, within the local market, how best can they be served to develop their enterprises towards growth, further employment and eventual sustainability?
These are but some examples but what other products that are being wasted, can be packaged and put to market? Jamaica is a prime example of using national products such as akee and salt fish, peas, breadfruit and other local delicacies and packaging them for a global market, albeit a mainly Diaspora market. Montserrat has a very large Diaspora market as is known.
In my estimation, manufacturing does not have to begin by being largely expansive. The means can be localised and the product professionally packaged. I am often encouraged when I pass through Antigua and see bottles of Suzie's Pepper sauce at the airport; locally made, but packaged for an international market. We can take a queue from this perhaps?
3. Engaging & Supporting Entrepreneurship Towards Stability
Private sector development, I believe, calls for a re-engineering towards a 21st century economy. This, I think, calls for innovators and thinkers of new ideas to bring them forward and be given the tools to execute them with efficiency towards realising profit. Who is responsible for ensuring that our young people have the help, access to funding, mentoring and overall guidance they need to bring their ideas, not just to fruition, but towards incubation, growth and eventual profit?
I often speak about citizens being engaged in the future of Montserrat and not solely rely on government. I still support this view but within that stance of engaging citizens, I believe that when you have an island of just around 4800 people, that are seeking to rebuild, then government should play a central role in facilitating the private sector to get back on its feet.
I am not saying government should provide all the jobs. Not at all. But government should act, via policy directives, as a conduit to create a path that leads towards avenues where a budding entrepreneur can develop their idea to full capacity to create jobs, pay taxes and eventually gain wealth for themselves and their families. That I see as being a key responsibility of government in a small developing country such as Montserrat. Government should not be seen to be shirking its responsibilities to the people they serve. Thus, when the private sector catches its feet and growth in the economy is visible and sustainable, them government can scale back its role.
4.Connecting With The Diaspora For Development Beyond Rhetoric
Looking internally for Montserrat's resurgence does not mean looking locally only. Our people are global, our markets and virtual communities spreads across continents.
Whilst Diaspora consultations are worthwhile and useful, there comes a point when we should stop consulting and start seeing visible action. For the survey that was initiated last year to do with the Diaspora, twice MNI Alive has inquired about the number of respondents to date, and that data we were told has not been checked. Engaging with the Diaspora ought to be a proactive exercise and not a reactive gesture rooted in political mileage.
An office of the Diaspora may be a worthwhile consideration; funded with the sole purpose of engaging with the global Diaspora across the realms of economic development, social development, special projects and the like.
I know I will hear chimes of there already being a Diaspora representative or a Diaspora Office in the UK; and I will say to these persons point out the visibility of the Montserrat Uk Office in the communities it serves in the UK, and the discussion can be closed. The Montserrat UK office needs to ramp up its visibility and actions towards engaging what is a large Diaspora community throughout the United Kingdom. Measures for USA & Canada will need to be determined also.
To engage the Diaspora to assist Montserrat's national development, information sharing is key. If information is not being shared, then a question mark is warranted as to how serious policy makers are about engagement with the outside population. Information is vital, as knowledge is power when making critical decisions.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Geothermal Energy is also a very crucial aspect to Montserrat's future. However, this issue will be dealt with in a dedicated feature in the coming weeks.
Photo Credit To Tradewinds
Jeevan Robinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the global Caribbean media house, MNI Alive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org