Caricom Saudi Summit
Several Caribbean Community leaders arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for what is being billed as the first summit meeting between the 15-nation bloc and one of the richest nations on the globe.
Most of the leaders had assembled in Barbados on Tuesday for the flight to Riyadh including Chairman Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, Presidents Irfaan Ali and Chan Santokhi of Guyana and Suriname respectively as well as PM Keith Rowley of Trinidad. Most of the leaders of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) sub grouping are also on the plane to The Middle East.
But while the fully sponsored summit is being billed as one to foster trade and aid, collaborate on climate change and other issues affecting the developing world, there could be a politically sinister reason why the Saudis have invited regional leaders to meet starting on Thursday.
The Saudis are competing with South Korea and Italy to host the 2030 edition of the World Expo, usually regarded as a major money spinner and business networking opportunity of immense importance for commerce around the world.
So apart from discussing the possibility of the region possibly tapping into a $30 billion soft loan fund, the Saudis are well aware that Caricom has 14 independent nations which can vote for it at the United Nations General Assembly as the vote as to which city will host the expo will be made by the UN body in the coming weeks. Wooing Caricom to take its side is expected to be a major agenda item for the Saudis.
Commenting on the politics and diplomacy behind the first Caricom-Saudi summit, the Trinidad Guardian says the conference “therefore is no coincidence and is of no small significance” given the fact that the last expo held in Dubai had netted the United Arab Emirates at least $42 billion and had pulled in 24 million visitors during a six-month period.
Meanwhile, just before leaving Antigua, Prime minister Gaston Browne said that he and his delegation are looking forward to discussions as a range of topics including food security, air transportation links, renewable energy, finance and tourism will be on the agenda for the two days.
Regional Chair Skerrit is down to speak at the opening ceremony alongside His Majesty Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and King of Saudi Arabia, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as Carla Barnett, secretary-general of the CARICOM.
PM Browne says he also wants academic opportunities for Antiguans out of the visit. “We believe that we can develop academic collaboration and research initiatives through teacher exchanges and educational infrastructure development. In the area of health, we believe we can collaborate on healthcare infrastructure development including the construction and upgrading of clinics, laboratories and medical treatment facilities along with advancing medical training opportunities, education and advancing electronic health records management,” he said.