Caribbean must dynamicaly engage with China

On January 22, 2018, the Second Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)-China Forum was held in Santiago, Chile. This meeting was attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and representatives from the 33 members of the community.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed that China continues its commitment to strengthen economic and financial collaboration with nations in this region.

China has stated that it wants to expand its “One Belt, One Road” initiative to Latin America. This project was launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, and promotes a vision of creating frictionless infrastructure links among Asia, Africa and Europe, powered by billions of US dollars in investment.

While China has maintained its position – that it “will continue to provide economic and technical assistance to Latin American and Caribbean countries”, it is essential to understand that there are many countries in Latin America competing for Chinese investment.

Costa Rica, Venezuela, Guyana, Ecuador and Peru are other major beneficiaries of China's investment and assistance. Chinese-financed projects in those countries include transportation systems and other value-added infrastructure which are key to efficient commerce in logistics, resources and goods.

Jamaica's Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith said that Jamaica welcomed the Belt and Road Initiative as a 'visionary plan' that can support national development plans for Caribbean states.

Chinese companies have been investing in Jamaica in infrastructure, logistics and mining, among other projects, which have solidified Jamaica's position as an excellent location for sustainable and profitable investments and high development opportunities.

The good news is that foreign direct investment from China to the region increased in 2017, surpassing US$25 billion, and is shifting towards new sectors such as logistics, water treatment, hotel development and renewable energies.

It should be noted that in order to sustain and build on these investments by state-owned and private companies, Caribbean countries should make sure that incentives, legal and regulatory frameworks are seamless and easily accessible.

Countries in the Caribbean need to build authentic platforms with sound value propositions for Chinese companies in diverse sectors such as agri-business, renewable energy, and special economic zone development. Jamaica has been proactive in engaging with a range of Chinese companies in these and other sectors to ensure that these investments drive socially beneficial investments by way of jobs, skills training and knowledge transfer.

It's often all too easy to pivot to the hubris, seeing current investment as a guarantee of future engagement. However, Caribbean island states should continue to dynamically engage with China, or risk losing out on opportunities to our larger neighbours in Latin America who have oil, gas, and diverse mineral resources.