Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley has never hesitated to step out boldly onto the world stage. Her island (population less than 300,000) continues to “punch above its weight.” For the past year, Prime Minister Mottley has focused on the area of trade and investment, challenging entrenched attitudes, embracing new ideas, and urging greater cooperation among nations. Speaking at the inaugural event of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Presidential Lecture Series on March 23 this year at the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva, Mottley asserted that a new global order is needed:
[It] requires a next generation WTO committed to calling out obstacles to equitable trade, committed to being even more representative, acting as a countervailing, reforming force against the tendency to narrow, exclusive trade relationships, with a seat at the highest tables to promote the international trade dimension to the world’s problems.
As an example of this continued focus, Barbados recently hosted the first ever AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum, which took place on September 1 and 2, and was livestreamed on YouTube. Its theme was very much in the spirit of pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey’s famous quote, “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!” On the opening day, Mottley shared on Twitter:
History was made today as the Caribbean and Africa came together for the inaugural AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum. Under the theme of “One People. One Destiny. Uniting and Reimagining Our Future,” I believe this event will be a turning point for our regions.
— Mia Amor Mottley (@miaamormottley) September 1, 2022
In her short Twitter thread, Mottley stressed that the meeting — held in partnership with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) — was not just about “spiritual reconnection,” but also had specific objectives in strengthening the relationship between the two regions, including “creating a business case for a potential AfriCaribbean Free Trade Area” and “promoting inter-bank relationships.” Over 2,300 representatives (mostly from the private sector) attended — including 49 African countries, 16 Caribbean countries, and a number of Latin American and Middle Eastern participants — and hopes are high that the event achieved tangible results.
President of Afreximbank Professor Benedict Okey Oramah observed at the closing ceremony:
We keep our promises. We didn’t travel all these thousands of kilometres to come and make a show. We came here for a purpose. Coming here is an investment towards that end. […] The benefits of that investment are concrete results coming out of the commitment we make here. You are going to see, in the next few months, actual things on the ground.
Prime Minister Mottley added that the two regions might be able to “forever to remove the scars of the middle passage” through greater cooperation on a range of development issues, including several challenges they have in common:
We, children of independence, have determined that we shall not allow another generation to pass without bringing together that which should have never been torn asunder. We face common battles from the climate crisis to the COVID pandemic, now to the third aspect of it, with respect to inflation and debt that threaten to tear too many of our countries apart and threaten to put back into poverty too many of our people […]
These travel dependent economies, whether in Africa or in the Caribbean, have literally been thrown on their backs and we seek to fight this battle of bridging and reclaiming our Atlantic destiny on both sides, at the very time when the travel and tourism industry is facing its greatest challenge in decades […] We can choose to record that as but another major battle, or we can say as my country has done, even in the midst of an IMF programme, that if you do not seize our destiny now, we will never seize it.
Mottley is building on her role as President of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), almost exactly one year after her election to the post on September 6, 2021. Barbados hosted UNCTAD’s quadrennial ministerial conference (UNCTAD15) from October 3 to 7, 2021, with the challenging theme “From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all.” The Prime Minister took a delegation of officials from the United Nations, UNCTAD and CARICOM, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on a tour of the island during their visit.
UNCTAD, which is currently holding its second Illicit Trade Forum in Geneva, is part of the UN Secretariat and comprises 195 member states, administering 204 projects in 70 countries. It supports developing countries’ improved access to the benefits of a globalised economy, including climate change adaptation, increased access to digital technologies, and promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, among other goals.
The Barbadian leader continues to garner praise, both at home and abroad, for her now familiar forthright style. One Jamaican commented:
Awesome 🙌 Looking for Caricom to be more united than ever before trading nicely with each other as we have the capacity to help in resources and food security, also better travels for cheaper direct flights than having to go Miami for that and Carifesta stronger than ever 😊
— sainty876 (@sainty876) September 2, 2022
The possibilities of direct air travel between the two regions seemed to be of particular interest in the Caribbean:
The first #AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum opened on Thursday with host #Barbados PM Mia Mottley saying the two regions “have business to do” and asserting that it was only political will keeping the two regions from establishing direct air links. https://t.co/oNAwCQcdvI
— Nevis Tourism (@Nevis_Island) September 5, 2022
An African commentator added:
Mia Mottley is simply iconic. Very rarely do we see leaders as visionary on either side of the Black Atlantic. Barbados truly is a great country to have elected someone of her caliber. https://t.co/afOOIaqxRy
— OK then (@Kdenkss) September 1, 2022
In the Caribbean, there is no doubt that the Barbadian prime minister is regarded as a major asset. One resident of the British Virgin Islands tweeted:
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley needs to be protected at all costs.
— “smoke turkey, dumplings and lentils please” (@foreverfaded__) August 31, 2022
One of Time Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential People 2022, Mottley continues to blaze a trail and spark discussion at various fora. Forbes Magazine cited her as one of “Seven Women to Watch at the UN General Assembly,” which opens on September 13.
Meanwhile, both Caribbean and African citizens are trusting that this particular “first” meeting will make a difference in their lives, and translate words into action.