As a small island traditionally viewed as one of the world’s most picturesque tourist destinations, Grenada is looking overseas to aid its development, especially with the growing industries emerging on its shores. Shrewdly, this island nation sees its future in co-operation with countries which have expertise in areas that it lacks.
Diplomat met with Grenada’s instantly likeable Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Peter David, who is an enthusiastic promoter of his home country. Understanding his eventful career in government reveals a man of extraordinary patience and an awareness of Grenada’s needs. As a founding member of the student movement that led the revolution in 1979, he became a junior minister in the government led by Maurice Bishop. He describes a ‘Caribbean style revolution’ – peaceful, but something that gave Grenadians hope of building a ‘new and just society. Under the leadership of Bishop who was loved by all, we could build a new Grenada.’
However there was conflict within the party which arose, in Minister David’s view, through the speed of the reform process – some changes were carried out more slowly than others, and so a few of the more extreme revolutionaries became upset. Once the military became involved, there was always going to be a ‘military solution’ which resulted in crisis. (Bishop was executed in 1983, and US-led forces subsequently invaded the island).
At that time, Minister David saw that the world was changing and that the young radicals of the 1970s had to adjust to a new environment. Therefore he studied History in Canada and Law in London, after which he worked as a lawyer in the US for 10 years, all the while staying in touch with Grenadian politics. He returned home in 2000. ‘The 80s and 90s were a period for introspection for those involved in 60s and 70s politics in Grenada, reassessing the needs of the region and staying in touch with the Grenadian diaspora, [all of] which has resulted in a ‘new vision’.’
This vision has faced a challenging period, not just because of the unique problems facing Grenada but because of the challenging environment facing the rest of the world. Coming to power in 2008, just as the global financial crisis took hold, it felt as though the country’s revenues had dried up. This made life difficult for the new government, which had been voted in with the high expectations that it would solve many of the island’s problems. Bank-funded development projects on the island had to be put on hold, resulting in major job losses. The other great knock-on effect has been the hit to the tourism industry. Tourist numbers – the main markets being Europe and the US – are down by 40 per cent overall since 2007, and although cruise visitors have remained steady, they are spending far less while on shore.
About 20 per cent of Grenada’s GDP comes from remittances (Grenadians living abroad who send money home) and this completely reversed – Grenadian families were sending money to relatives living abroad. The result of all this has been that the government has had to delay some of the promises that it had made.
Grenada’s diplomatic relations with her ‘traditional friends – UK, USA, EU and Caricom countries are very strong and key to Grenada’s development in healthcare, unemployment, housing and education training. They have also been focussing on non-traditional allies such as India, Venezuela, Brazil and some Middle Eastern countries who have become vital in helping to develop the island’s agricultural sector. Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Honourable Michael Lett emphasises that the Nutmeg Association desperately needs investment and there is a greater demand than supply of Grenadian chocolate – investment will help increase cocao production and it is through their relationships with countries that understand these industries that they can help them flourish again. India has helped train Grenadians in the IT sector and Venezuela has also committed to helping develop the whole Caribbean region. Minister David emphasises, ‘Today, we are committed to establishing relationships with non-traditional allies, as it is through these relationships that the development of the country can really blossom.’
One of the most reliable of their new non-traditional allies is China, who has built the national cricket ground and a number of new schools on the island. It is through relationships like these that you can really see the progress that is possible.
The Minister of Finance, the Honourable Nazim Burke, underlines the five transformative sectors which can permanently improve economic and social conditions for Grenada: health and education, hospitality, energy development, agri-business and information technology. One of the most innovative projects in health care was highlighted by Christopher de Riggs, Director of the Office of Private Sector Development: ‘We are engaged at present in discussions with St George’s University to arrange a creative partnering with the government to create a teaching hospital that will improve health care in Grenada. We see health care as having export sales potential if we can attract people from the United States to come to Grenada for surgery – even for cosmetic surgery – at 60 per cent less of the cost.’
Another great challenge for Grenada is the definition of its water boundaries with Trinidad and Tobago. With relatively few remaining domestic resources (since Hurricane Ivan in 2004 the nutmeg industry has been devastated, and the banana industry was wiped out by EU trade regulations), evidence of oil and gas in Grenada’s territorial waters provides a rare opportunity to generate income. The test for Grenada is whether, against a background of high unemployment and diminished tourist numbers, the government can deliver in extracting the resources it believes it has, through co-operation with Trinidad and Tobago’s strong exploration industry. This kind of project could ‘significantly transform the face of Grenada.’
As chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Grenada is clear that it feels responsible in leading AOSIS to COP-16 (the upcoming UN climate change conference, scheduled for 29 November in Cancun) in the hope that it results in a legally binding agreement on global emissions – not just for Grenada but for the whole world.
More Grenadians live overseas than in Grenada itself, and Minister David recognises the great contribution that the Grenadian diaspora can make. The establishment of the Office of Diaspora Affairs has created a facility for Grenadians living in London, New York and Toronto to contribute to their country. ‘We need to make them feel a part of and become a part of our economic development process… This will be the mechanism through which Grenadians outside, wherever
they are, can contribute to national development.’
In addition to the government making tall efforts to encourage Grenada’s development, the Grenada Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) provides an investment promotion platform to assist any businesses seeking to set up operations in Grenada. Sonia Roden, General Manager of the GIDC, states: ‘In a nutshell, this corporation is responsible for investment facilitation, as well as small business development. We promote the country as an investment location, sharing information in regards to investment opportunities that exist. The GIDC’s role includes hand-holding investors through [a] process which sometimes can be frustrating when they don’t know the system.’
The island presents a great opportunity: the government recognises that Grenada’s development is reliant on outside investors, and so it has created an environment that attracts businesses to unique investment opportunities from across the globe, who will benefit from an accommodating and proactive government, as well as one of the most pristine physical environments in the Caribbean.