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Caribbean told to turn to Chinese tourists

American Professor of Economics, C. Fred Bergsten (right) being interviewed by Julian Rogers on Caribbean Economic Forum

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Feb 20.- American Professor of Economics, C. Fred Bergsten Wednesday night advised flagging tourism-dependent Caribbean countries to turn to China as a potentially booming source of visitors to insulate themselves from future external shocks.

 “Those economies here that are so heavily linked to tourism, I would commend to your outlook what’s going to happen with China,” he said during the 90-minute programme- Caribbean Economic Forum- that was broadcast live from the Central Bank of Barbados.

 A number of member states of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) have in recent months turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout packages because fewer Americans and Europeans have been travelling to the Caribbean due to the global economic downturn.

 Appearing on the first edition of the Caribbean Economic Forum hosted by the Barbados Central Bank, Bergsten said the Caribbean needed to diversify its economic relations with Latin America and East Asia- more specifically China which is the world’s second largest spender on tourism- more than US$100 billion. “China is going to explode a source of tourism. There’s going to be a tsunami of Chinese tourists flooding the world over the next several decades and the Caribbean can get even a small slice of that huge market, it can do wonders for this economy,” he said. Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar had recently announced that efforts were being made to attract a major Chinese airline. Government, too, has been touting the Chinese-funded expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport as a major step towards the facility becoming a hub for the Caribbean and Latin America.

 Using World Travel and Tourism Council figures, a sample shows the heavy direct and indirect reliance of Caribbean countries on tourism: Jamaica (27.4 percent of GDP), St Lucia (39 percent of GDP), Barbados (39.4 percent of GDP), The Bahamas (48.4 percent of GDP), and Antigua & Barbuda (77.4 percent of GDP).

 He said all the Caribbean needed was a small percentage of the huge Chinese tourism market to become a “game changer”. He further suggested that the Caribbean pools its resources to market the region in China.

 Bergsten cited the need for Caribbean countries to attract more inward foreign direct investment to provide a stable source of foreign funding and integration of the region into the global supply chain. At the same time, he cautioned against economic diversification into several areas such as agriculture, international business and other areas. “Small economies, whether in the Caribbean or elsewhere, really do have to focus on a relatively small number of economic niches. If you try to diversify across your economy too widely and try to pursue too may ventures of different industrial source, you really run a risk of doing nothing well,” he said, adding that the Caribbean should focus on leveraging its comparative advantage to become globally competitive.