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AS I SEE THINGS: Importance of economic intelligence


BRIAN FRANCIS

AS I SEE THINGS: Importance of economic intelligence

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IN ORDER TO protect the national security interest of the United States (US), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operates all over the world, gathering evidence so that appropriate foreign policy and military safeguards can be devised to mitigate potential threats. Even though the operations of the CIA come in at times for serious criticism, the plain truth is that the US remains a relatively safe country thanks to those very efforts. The freedoms Americans enjoy and the economic prosperity are therefore the results of great sacrifice on the part of many people and not mere coincidence.

Since the worldwide recession of 2008/2009, our countries in the Caribbean have been complaining of the fallout from those dark days. Our economies remain in rather fragile states, the achievement of real growth rates has been elusive, unemployment remains a major stumbling block and fiscal and debt difficulties continue with no firm plans to reverse those trends.

Clearly, therefore, if our countries are so susceptible to external shocks, would it not be sensible for us to invest more time tracking developments in the global arena so that just as the CIA does, we would be able to gather economic intelligence and be able to have mitigating strategies to protect our economies and societies in the medium to long term?   

Take this scenario, for example, as a way of illustrating the main point I am trying to get across. A problem faced by all countries reliant totally, or heavily, on agricultural exports, as most Small Island Developing States have been and still are, is the considerable volatility in the world prices for virtually all agricultural commodities. This affects a country’s ability to achieve and maintain fiscal balance, to plan, to pay for major projects under construction, to finance its national debt in some years; not to mention its immediate effects on farming communities and on commerce, generally, in a small or micro economy.

Should any factor whatsoever, be it political, industrial or social unrest; climate, pest-related developments, or anything else, cause a significant shortfall in the production of, say, Indonesian nutmegs, Grenadian farmers and the economy immediately receive a boost because of a surge in world prices caused by Indonesia’s production shortfall. Equally, should Indonesia’s production substantially exceed that of its previous year’s supply, Grenada’s farmers and the economy receive an unpleasant “hit” – an economic downturn.

Those issues in relation to nutmeg are as real as can be. But what exactly will happen in Grenada’s case if no one in that country was following developments overseas with respect to Indonesia’s nutmeg? The answer is simple: a lost opportunity for Grenada. Clearly, this nutmeg scenario is but only one example of what can happen if proper information gathering does not become part of our development strategy.

I say this: the development of Caribbean societies must be done with due recognition given to the importance of economic intelligence, especially from external sources.  Otherwise, the way forward for our countries and economies may be made more difficult and challenging than necessary!

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