Tourism is the single most important economic sector in the Caribbean with an important potential for employment, ”inclusive” growth and development. The European Union (EU) increasingly recognises the potential of the private sector and tourism in the achievement of development objectives. In practice however, both EU and Caribbean institutions still seem to have problems in tapping the development potential of tourism.
In Brussels on 14 March, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) in cooperation with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and the Caribbean Council held it’s annual summit.[i] Several Caribbean Ministers of Tourism, Ambassadors and officials, private sector operators and European Commission (EC) officials participated in the meeting.
ECDPM prepared a briefing note and delivered a keynote presentation to the meeting identifying key policy priorities in terms of private sector development and tourism in current EU and EU-Caribbean policy frameworks – including the Cotonou Agreement, the EC’s Green paper on “EU development policy in support of inclusive growth and sustainable development: Increasing the impact of EU development policy”, the EU-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the emerging Joint Caribbean-EU Partnership Strategy – and comparing these with current practice. The presentation illustrated some of the gaps between policies and concrete practice and indicated some possible ways forward to tackle longstanding bottlenecks.
Ambassador Lolita Applewhaite, the Caribbean Community and Common Market’s (CARICOM) Acting-Secretary-General said in her speech to the forum that the aim of the event was to initiate “closer and sustained policy dialogue on tourism and related tourism development issues with Member States of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission and begin a process that will give tourism a greater focus in future Caribbean-EU relations.”[ii] Participants also debated changing EU approaches to aviation, taxation, security, the environment, carbon trading and clean energy which have an impact on the Caribbean’s long term development interests.[iii]
The meeting showed clearly that now is the time for the Caribbean public and private sector and the EU to start working together more closely in order to bridge the gap between policy and practice – in particular in relation to the EPA and the development support linked to it – and to eventually tap the development potential of tourism.
In his presentation, ECDPM’s Geert Laporte identified five key areas of work that could help to ensure a smooth way forward of the policy dialogue between the EU and the Caribbean on tourism:
The inaugural meeting next week of the Caribbean-EU EPA’s Joint Trade and Development Committee will provide an opportunity for further discussions on how to operationalise the agreement’s provisions and support.
Lessons learned from Caribbean-EU tourism experiences could also be useful for other ACP regions currently negotiating or implementing EPAs with the EU.