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The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) outlook for 2021: “not so good” 

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Posted: Monday, January 25, 2021. 8:15 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Elizabeth Morgan, a specialist in international trade policy and international politics, has written an analysis of the year ahead in trade and the economy in the Caribbean. In short, she told CARICOM Today, it doesn’t look good for the regional grouping thus far.

Morgan says containing COVID-19, whether by vaccine or otherwise, is critical to returning to “a fair level of normality,” as tourism is feeling its way back as is petroleum. There are also natural conflicts (the La Soufriere volcano watch in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) and political (Haiti) to watch.

The one-two punch of COVID-19/travel restrictions/lockdowns and weather (hurricanes/drought) reversed years of progress and expectations for further growth in 2020. With the exception of Guyana, which registered growth of about 31% due to oil production, most CARICOM Member States saw a severe decline in their GDP.

Data from 2019 showed the balance of trade with the United States and CARICOM at roughly US$8 billion, but in 2020 that could decline given the woes of both. Figures from the US Census Bureau for January to November 2020 show that CARICOM goods imports were valued at US$10 billion, while exports were valued at US$4.41 billion. Data for other countries and groupings is not immediately available.

Two primary tourist destinations – Bahamas and Jamaica – each recorded cuts of about a third in tourist arrivals, while for those countries with petroleum as a principal industry, there was also a decline as demand was reduced due to restrictions in travel and production.

2021 has not started well despite optimistic projections for recovery of around 4 per cent region-wide by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

COVID-19 is on the march again in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom (UK), European Union (EU), China, India, Africa, and in Latin America and the Caribbean with new strains. The return of tougher measures and restrictions, says Morgan, will put an added burden on Caribbean countries which must now provide these tests on a larger scale.

The Director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional arm of WHO, Dr. Carissa Etienne, has announced that vaccines’ distribution will commence in the Americas in March. It should reach CARICOM countries by April.  From media reports, however, it seems that a very small amount of a COVID vaccine was available in Barbados recently. Jamaica has announced that it will begin exploring access to vaccines outside of the COVAX programme.

Morgan concludes, “If COVID-19 is not contained through observing the protocols (washing hands, distancing and wearing masks) and getting timely access to vaccines, the outlook for 2021 will definitely be much dimmer than earlier projections. CARICOM’s small open, middle income economies, highly trade dependent, will be in crisis without the further support of the international community.”

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