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AS I SEE THINGS: Economic diversification


Brian Francis

AS I SEE THINGS: Economic diversification

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When one reflects on Caribbean economies and major areas of economic activity, certain sectors and industries immediately come to mind. Among the main players are agriculture, tourism, international business, construction, and manufacturing.
Discussions about the performance of regional economies often focus on whether these areas are expanding or declining and projections for the future. Out of those deliberations usually emerge sentiments about economic diversification to put the economies on a more sustained growth and development path.
As countries grow and develop, they have to find new areas of economic activity from which income can be generated
in order to protect the gains of the past. This is extremely important particularly in circumstances where most of the gains can be attributed to one or a few major sector or industries. And that is precisely the scenario that we in the Caribbean have found ourselves in and have been struggling to overcome for many decades.  
For some countries, agriculture has been the backbone of economic activities for many years.
In others, manufacturing has led the way. In more recent times, tourism and international business have been the backbone of regional economies.
The experiences associated with the recent global and financial crisis suggest quite clearly that no single sector or industry is capable of withstanding the forces of external shocks to prevent Caribbean economies from declining drastically when conditions in the international economy change for the worse.  
It is for this reason that other sources of income have to be identified and tapped into to reduce the element of risk associated with economies that rely too heavily on a narrow range of sectors or industries.
In practical terms, regional efforts at economic diversification have to move beyond the better known areas of activity such as tourism and offshore financial services to other income-generating activities in areas such as sports, arts and culture.
I believe the time has come for Caribbean economies to adopt a much more aggressive posture in the development of sports, arts and culture, with similar enthusiasm as we show for the more popular income-generating activities like tourism, construction and manufacturing.    
Take sports, for example. A huge number of opportunities exist for athletes in almost every discipline nowadays, ranging from cricket to track and field. When one reflects on the recent success of the West Indies Under-19 team against the Australians, who can deny that our small islands still possess quality young players who could surely develop into top-class international cricketers if the right mechanisms were in place to facilitate their growth and development.
With respect to track and field, the quality of junior athletes recently on display at the CARIFTA games suggest to me that the Caribbean is on the verge of generating even more champions at the highest level of competition.  
In essence, therefore, there is no shortage of income-generating activities to which Caribbean countries can turn in order to further diversify their economies. All that is necessary is the will to do so.
Are we up to the task?

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