Caribbean Must Equalise to Grow and Grow to Equalise, says ECLAC

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Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, who believes that the region “must equalise to grow and grow to equalise, fostering investment and gender equality”. Credit: ECLAC Public Information Unit

By Desmond Brown

KINGSTON | NEW YORK (ACP-IDN) – If they are to meet commitments agreed under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its sustainable development goals (SDGs), the countries of the Caribbean must focus on closing the structural gaps they still have – particularly with regard to gender equality and financial and fiscal sustainability (due to their high debt level) – and mitigating the effects of climate change, .

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), spoke in this regard during the ‘African-Caribbean Cross-Regional Exchange’ at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) which ended July 19 at United Nations headquarters in New York.

“The current development model is unsustainable in that it has led to a decrease in trade and growth, greater inequality, excessive financialisation, and has fallen into the greatest market failure of all: climate change,” she said.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have thus come about as an aspirational response with a view to the long term … [and] “in order to meet the SDGs, ECLAC proposes a great environmental push, a change in productive structures via industrialisation, innovation and the incorporation of greater knowledge.”

The New York event, which focused on dialogue around proposals related to debt, climate change and gender equality in Africa and the Caribbean, was organised by the Regions Refocus initiative of the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation (with headquarters in Sweden), the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) foundation and the Jamaica Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Participants in the dialogue included Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, Representative for the Jamaica Permanent Mission to the United Nation; Ambassador Pennelope Beckles of Trinidad and Tobago; Ambassador Keith Hamilton Lewellyn Marshall of Barbados and other Caribbean and African ambassadors to the United Nations, Anita Nayar of Regions Refocus, and Caecilie Schildberg of FES, among others.

In her remarks, the ECLAC Executive Secretary said that in order to implement the 2030 Agenda, develop their national institutional frameworks to follow it and mainstream the SDGs into their plans and policies, it is essential that the countries of the Caribbean know the challenges they face in the current global context in terms of trade flows and accords, access to financing and mobilisation of resources, and technology.

“We must equalise to grow and grow to equalise, fostering investment and gender equality,” said Bárcena.

On this last point, she stated that the main issue is assuring women’s autonomy in its three dimensions: economic, physical and political.

In the Caribbean, women tend to be over-represented in the lowest sectors of the labour market – especially in the service sector – and under-represented in areas that require higher qualifications, she explained.

Furthermore, the unemployment rate is higher among women, who also suffer lower levels of social protection and have lower salaries compared with men (in similar positions).

“Much more needs to be done to completely capitalise on women’s potential, requiring methods that encompass their access to education and quality training, to economic resources and financial services, and to new forms of financing,” Bárcena said. “We must move from a culture of privilege to a culture of equality.”

With regard to climate change, the ECLAC official asserted that the small island states of the Caribbean are more susceptible than other continental areas to the severe consequences related to increasing sea levels and natural disasters. She pointed out that in the past 40 years, it is estimated that such disasters have cost nearly five percent of the sub-region’s GDP.

Moreover, macroeconomic conditions have led many countries of the Caribbean to considerably increase their debt levels in the 2012-2016 period, with some cases surpassing 100 percent of their GDP.

“For this reason, ECLAC has launched a debt-relief proposal for the English-speaking Caribbean through the creation of a prevention fund for mitigating the consequences of climate change in their economies,” Bárcena said.

She stressed that any debt-relief situation that avoids contractions in social spending and allows for responsible fiscal adjustments will be beneficial toward reducing the persistent inequalities in the sub-region, especially in terms of gender, noting that this is exacerbated by the “graduation” problem of many Caribbean countries, which are of middle income and thus limited in their access to preferential financial and trade measures.

According to Bárcena, “proposals such as the one by ECLAC to establish a prevention fund to stimulate ‘green’ investments and shore up competition and productivity in the Caribbean will deliver much needed diversification as a means for reducing economic vulnerability, and will spur economic growth by putting the Caribbean on a sustainable path to achieving the SDGs.”

At the HLPF, Caribbean countries ratified their commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and reaffirmed the importance of multilateral agreements such as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the New Urban Agenda for achieving sustainable urban development.

The fact that between 2016 and 2017, fourteen countries of the region are presenting their voluntary national reviews (VNRs) within the context of the 20130 Agenda, “reflects our region’s commitment to this global follow-up and monitoring mechanism and, above all, our commitment to ensuring no one gets left behind,” said Francisco Guzmán, Chief of Staff of the President of Mexico and Executive Secretary of the National Council for Sustainable Agenda.

“We recognise that governments hold the greatest responsibility when it comes to implementing the 2030 Agenda,” and at the same time “we stress the potential of the private sector to shift patterns of consumption and production toward more sustainable models,” Guzmán added.

In accordance with the inclusive focus of the 2030 Agenda, upcoming meetings of the Forum will include participation by members of civic organisations, academia and the private sector, he said.

Guzmán emphasised that for the countries of the region, “gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are crucial in order to fulfil all the SDGs,” as well as official development assistance, climate financing and South-South cooperation. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 July 2017]

Note: This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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