Caribbean must look to global trade in services
Stabroek News
April 28, 2002

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Global trade and services provided through the region’s peoples, how these would benefit the Caribbean’s development and how they impact on women’s individual lives should be examined, businesswoman Jocelyn Dow said.

Dow, the President of the Washington-based Women’s Environmental and Development Organisation (WEDO), is urging women to reflect on what it means to be a Caribbean and Guyanese citizen in a world, “where so much seem to be stacked against us.” She said this against the background of using much need resources to train professionals who subsequently migrate in search of better opportunities outside the region.

Dow delivered the main address at the opening of a one-day workshop on trade hosted by the Guyana Chapter of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) at the Main Street Plaza Hotel on Friday. The conference was held under the theme `Exploring Trade Liberalisation and its Impact on Women’.

Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Clement Rohee, who declared the workshop open said that there was a paucity of information on the subject at all levels, more particularly as it related to women, which he said hindered the ability to analyse the theme in a comprehensive manner.

Noting that the Caribbean’s export in goods was minimal and amounted to less than one per cent of global trade, Dow said the fact was that the Caribbean’s services on the global market was “through our people.” Current statistics show that over US$100 million comes into the region annually as remittances from Guyanese who live abroad.

She called on the participants to look at training and the export of services to find possible solutions as to how trade and services through the region’s people could assist in its development. She noted that at present the region suffered “a double negative” through the exodus of skilled professionals, mainly teachers, nurses and doctors. Last week, the USA was recruiting nurses and teachers.

Citing available statistics since the 90s, she noted that the enormous disparity between rich and poor nations has grown tremendously in the last two decades. The rich countries, in the decade before 1992, were 30 times richer than the poor countries; over the last decade they became about 80 times richer. There are 450 men who are worth more than 2.5 billion people collectively. Microsoft magnate Bill Gates alone is worth more than 140 million Americans with all their savings and pension plans.

In addition, countries like Guyana, had enormous debt burdens. While the disparity continued to grow, she said, “we are told” to clean up our act, open the markets and take advantage of liberalised trade.

However, in spite of this call, she noted that CARICOM was not in a position to take advantage of global trade in goods. In 1988 CARICOM’s export occupied 0.31% of global trade and in 1994 the figure was less amounting to 0.12% of global trade. The figure is basically the same today. The whole of Africa, with gold and diamond resources has less than two per cent of global trade.

Apart from attempting to market services, Dow said that at the global level there was trade in money and the instruments of money with trillions of dollars - legitimate and hot money - looking for places to land.

Noting that the region itself was trading in money through inshore and off-shore banking, she said there were questions about their legality by the developed world when the practice in the region was no different from what was going on in Lombard Street in London or Wall Street in New York. At present, the region has little to offer but “ourselves, in terms of human resources, and the region.”

Poor countries and poor people, with the greater percentage of the world’s poor being women, she said, have an enormous amount of work to do to free themselves from new bondage which are not only the forces of globalisation but that known as the Washington Consensus in which states are being asked to reduce their activities in areas of production and service, such as health, education, transportation among others to create an enabling environment that will permit the private sector and market forces to take over.

These policies, she said assume that all countries — developed and developing — were starting on a level playing field and that nations and their people including women had the same capacity to take advantage of the so-called opportunities of globalisation. While that may be so at the macro level, she said, women and people on the whole are working at several levels. However, she said that women had the power to withstand the forces of global trade as workers and as consumers but they would have to work out what needed to be done.

Giving a background as to what happened at the global level, she noted that two different views emerged during the early 90’s with the collapse of communism and the emergence of global trade and sustainable development.

Global trade meant a tidying up of the economies and opening up to the market forces to allow for a trickle down to the economies. Sustainable development, she said, challenged this notion with the view that people should be at the centre of development.

While the conference on sustainable development was going on at Rio the Uruguay Round was discussing the end of the general agreement on trade and tariff and the birth of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The WTO, the meeting in Rio felt, would undermine the possibility of people-centred sustainable development, particularly if governments got out of the business of services and production leaving those areas to the private sector.

In countries like Guyana, where there were state-managed economies, such a concept could not work. She said poor women from rich developed countries argued the same thing.

In a world in which 2.2 billion people live on less than US$2 per day and in which 70 per cent of those people have to carry the extra burden when governments were forced to abandon vital services like education and health to cost recovery, she said, women would have to bear the brunt of global trade liberalisation. (Miranda La Rose)