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China-Barbados trade could fuel economic recovery
2023-07-15 02:13

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados recently concluded a four-day visit to China, her first trip to the country since the pandemic. She met with Chinese leaders, attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) “Summer Davos” in Tianjin City, and engaged extensively with Chinese business leaders and university students of jurisprudence.

Though far away from each other geographically, China and Barbados have worked closely in areas that directly concern people’s well-being, including health, infrastructure and green transition.

Facing the challenges caused by the pandemic, China and Barbados joined hands to navigate through the difficult time. China provided vaccines and medical supplies to Barbados in times of need and medical experts of the two countries held virtual meetings to share experience on COVID control. In addition, Chinese medical teams have been fighting side-by-side with their Barbadian colleagues in operating rooms and wards, and, as the PM acknowledged, “providing critical services to our population”. The special bonds these Chinese doctors have forged with the people of Barbados will for sure be reinforced by the agreement on public health cooperation signed during PM Mottley’s visit.

Having lifted over 100 million people out of poverty, China fully understands Barbados’ desire for greater development, especially for improved infrastructure. After Barbados joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2019, the two countries have launched a series of new cooperative projects in Barbados that would benefit livelihoods and the local economy, such as redevelopment of the National Stadium, Sam Lord’s Castle Hotel, and rehabilitation of roads in the Scotland District.

With a shared commitment to sustainable development, the two countries have also worked together on green transition. Barbados is stepping up efforts to make its economy more sustainable and resilient. And China, a leader in solar panel and electric vehicle production, has contributed to this endeavour, while steadily implementing its own blueprint for green development. Barbados now saves hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in electricity bills with LED lamps and energy-saving air-conditioners from China; and has developed the largest “fleet of electric buses” in the Caribbean with China-made electric buses.

Besides bilateral cooperation, China and Barbados are like-minded partners in meeting global challenges. As a small island vulnerable to the climate crisis, Barbados has been an outspoken advocate for concrete climate action. This sense of urgency is echoed by China. Chinese Premier Li Qiang told Prime Minister Mottley that China understands the situation and special concerns of small-island developing states in relation to climate change and is ready to jointly seek solutions.

Issues like climate change are not challenges to one single country. As Mottley noted in her interview during the China trip, “The one thing I know is that we are bound by being human and by living on the same planet.”

This spirit of togetherness is also needed to boost global recovery. At present, prospects of the world economy are far from encouraging. According to the United Nations (UN), global growth is projected to be only 2.3 per cent in 2023. In this time of much uncertainty, the world needs more confidence and cooperation. This is also a prevailing message conveyed during the “Summer Davos”. China, a champion of globalisation and a key engine for global growth, is ready to join partners from around the world to contribute.

Recently, there have been some talks about the peak of China’s growth. But the statistics speak otherwise. In the past three years, China achieved an average annual growth of 4.5 per cent, about 2.5 percentage points higher than the world average, and was among the best performers of the world’s major economies. This year, China’s economy has demonstrated an even stronger momentum of rebound and improvement: GDP grew by 4.5 per cent in the first quarter year-on-year, and is expected to expand faster in the second quarter than in the first.

Moreover, China’s middle-income population, currently at 400 million, is expected to double by 2035. This will generate immense opportunities for cooperation between China and the rest of the world, including Barbados and other states in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), and provide a bigger market for quality LAC products. Now, Barbadian rum is already gaining popularity among Chinese consumers; roses from Ecuador are in short supply in China; and countries like Cuba have opened online stores on Chinese E-commerce platforms. More robust trade with China could contribute to the economic recovery and transformation plan for Barbados. And with the new agreement on cooperation under the Global Development Initiative, reached during PM Mottley’s visit, there will be bigger potential to be tapped for development cooperation.

In a world full of challenges, it is all the more important to champion cooperation and solidarity. Driven by a shared sense of responsibility, the China-Barbados relationship is well-positioned to deliver more benefits to the two peoples and make a difference for mother Earth.

The author is a Beijing-based observer of international affairs.

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