The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, participated today in the Eleventh General Meeting between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Associated Institutions and the United Nations System, where she addressed the challenges of the post-COVID-19 recovery and the opportunities existing for sustainable development in CARICOM. She stressed the need for egalitarian access to vaccines, the creation of a resilience fund to tackle the debt problem and climate vulnerability, as well as the need to broaden the criteria for measuring development beyond per capita income and to suspend the “graduation” of middle-income countries during the pandemic.
The event was inaugurated by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (by video message) and the CARICOM Secretary-General, Irwin LaRocque. It drew the participation of representatives of CARICOM’s Member States along with officials from the distinct UN entities operating in that subregion, such as ECLAC, the Development Coordination Office (DCO), the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), UN Women, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as officials from CARICOM’s Secretariat and its institutions such as the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), among other entities.
In her remarks, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary presented an overview of the economic, social and environmental challenges currently faced by the Caribbean, a region that has been especially affected by the crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alicia Bárcena indicated that the region of Latin America and the Caribbean in general is experiencing a recovery paradox amid a divided world, with an unsustainable development pattern and the risk of returning to the low growth paths that it had before the pandemic, with low investment and unemployment.
She explained that while the measures adopted by governments to mitigate the social consequences of COVID-19 amounted to $1.3 billion dollars in the Caribbean in 2020, inequality, poverty and labor informality increased, along with malnutrition and the risk of food insecurity. In addition, there continued to be a high prevalence of non-communicable diseases, with the hardest hit groups being women, school-age children and older persons.
Moreover, Caribbean countries have limited fiscal space and high indebtedness, which further accentuates their vulnerabilities and the global asymmetries that the world is experiencing in terms of access to vaccines, combating climate change and access to financing for development, which explains the special attention that ECLAC has given the subregion with its “Caribbean First” strategy. The Commission also recommends expanding the instruments of financing for development, including innovative initiatives such as debt-for-climate-action swaps and green bonds.
Bárcena recalled that, according to ECLAC’s most recent projections, the Caribbean will grow 3.6% in 2021 and 7.8% in 2022. However, many countries have problems of low growth and bear a high debt service burden. “The pandemic has widened fiscal deficits and ballooned the public debt. Central government debt in the Caribbean grew by nearly 20 percentage points in 2020 to reach 87.8% of GDP on average,” she indicated.
“These combined circumstances significantly raised the stakes regarding the ability of the region’s countries to stay the course towards sustainable development is concerned. The challenges are formidable,” she warned.
With regard to financing for development, Alicia Bárcena underscored that the criteria for graduation from Official Development Assistance (ODA) have put another constraint in the way of mobilizing resources for the region. Four countries from the Caribbean have been removed from the list of potential ODA recipients and one more is expected to “graduate” in 2022, she explained.
To address all these challenges related to debt and to be able to make progress on building forward better, ECLAC proposes five policy actions, Bárcena stated:
- Full access to vaccines and a One Health approach.
- Debt alleviation to establish a Caribbean Resilience Fund.
- Expansion of the toolbox of innovative instruments to improve debt repayment capacity and avoid debt distress, such as hurricane clauses, green bonds and bonds linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Remove obstacles and de-risking.
- Promote ECLAC’s proposal to reconsider the criteria for measuring and classifying development, while also suspending the “graduation” of middle-income countries during the pandemic.
“We need a transformative recovery, with emphasis on investment in equality and sustainability,” Bárcena told the participants. “Countries should maintain transfers, the emergency basic income, the anti-hunger grant, the basic digital basket, and their support for Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs). They must also train and retrain the labor force in line with industrial and technological policies, supporting sectors that can lead a big push towards investment for sustainability (the blue and green economy), while also fostering regional integration, restructuring education and health systems, building resilience in agricultural systems and restorin intraregional travel,” she explained.
Finally, she highlighted the leadership of Caribbean countries in complying with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a fact demonstrated by the increase in Voluntary National Reviews presented before the United Nations in the 2016-2021 period, including during the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development. “We are extremely pleased to see the efforts that Member States from the Caribbean have made to stay the course despite the multidimensional challenges and specific vulnerabilities they have had to face. The UN is committed to continue offering its support, in particular for the preparation of these voluntary national reviews and national sustainable development plans, including through the Regional Knowledge Management Platform on the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean (SDG Gateway) and the new, internal UN Collaboration Platform for the region,” she said.