Enhancing Trade Training in CARICOM as an Imperative for Sustainable Development

By Dr. Jan Yves Remy

As global trade complexities surge in response to sustainability challenges like climate change, economic disparities, and the pressing need for resilient value chains, Caribbean nations find themselves at a crucial juncture to reassess and refine their trade policies. This SRC Trading Thoughts delves into the strategic necessity of bolstering trade policy training within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to meet these evolving needs, emphasizing the pivotal role of the Masters in International Trade Policy (MITP) offered by the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy, and Services (SRC) at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.  The SRC’s training programmes, outreach and research are indispensable in arming governmental officials and civil society with the requisite skills and knowledge to adeptly navigate and shape the evolving trade and sustainability landscape, and will require active support from the donor, private sector and government communities.

The Evolving Trade Landscape

A 2024 report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) indicates that only 22% of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets have already been met or will be met by 2030 in Latin American and Caribbean region; progress towards 46% of the targets, although in the right direction, is not fast enough to meet them; and the remaining 32% of targets will be missed. These trends, and the overall weak growth of the Latin American and Caribbean economies, have led to the consideration of how trade and investment can be harnessed to secure more productive, inclusive, and sustainable development in the region.

Sustainable development, according to the Brundtland Report, strives to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. It is built on three foundational pillars: economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Economic sustainability focuses on creating a production system that meets current demands without depleting resources for the future. Social sustainability emphasizes fairness, inclusivity, and enhancing human well-being in all development processes. Meanwhile, environmental sustainability involves preserving the natural environment to support human life over the long term.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has recognized the importance of sustainability, as reflected in the preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization. In recent years, sustainability has featured prominently in discussions at various WTO forums, including the Structured Negotiations on Trade and Environment, the Dialogue on Plastics, and the Informal Groups on MSMEs, Gender, and other cross-cutting issues. The most recent WTO Ministerial Conference highlighted these topics, urging the WTO to adopt a more substantive role in addressing global challenges like environmental issues and inclusive trade.

Moreover, sustainable development principles have been increasingly integrated into regional trade agreements (RTAs) since 2005, with up to two-thirds of RTAs now incorporating these principles. Some countries have even tailored their entire trade policies around a sustainable and inclusive trade agenda. Additionally, international and regional organizations, as well as donor agencies such as the International Trade Centre (ITC), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Latin American and Caribbean Bank (CAF), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have shifted their focus to address the intersection between trade and sustainable development, reiterating their commitment to these crucial issues.

Although it concluded sustainability and development provisions in its CARIFORUM-Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, CARICOM has not adopted a decisive stance on integrating sustainable and inclusive elements into trade negotiations. However, CARICOM will have to reconsider this position given the shifting global dynamics and growing imperative for a new approach that views trade as integral to the broader SDG framework. This framework emphasizes a significant focus on sustainability and inclusivity, featuring environmental outcomes, finance, health, women, SMEs, labor, marginalized groups, and the ocean economy at the core of trade discussions.  It also demands an inclusive approach involving government officials beyond just trade, as well as civil society, academics and business.

The Region’s Training Needs and the SRC’s Training Offerings

The Shridath Ramphal Centre (SRC) serves as CARICOM’s leading trade training institution since 2004. It offers programs with a distinct regional focus, aiming to bolster trade capacity and foster innovative solutions for the development challenges faced by small, vulnerable economies. Its flagship degree, the Masters in International Trade Policy (MITP), is an interdisciplinary year-long Master of Science program that equips students to engage in trade and investment policymaking, negotiations, advocacy, and business from a CARICOM perspective. Academically, it spans two semesters of core and elective courses in law, politics, and economics, culminating in a supervised research paper. Practically, it includes a two-week Study Tour in Geneva, Switzerland, where students visit key international trade organizations and participate in the Joint University Study Tour (JUST) alongside peers from around the world. This practical training extends to an internship programme within CARICOM, where students gain hands-on experience in various trade-focused organizations. The programme has produced over 300 graduates who have gone on to assume influential roles as trade ministers, government officials, and private sector leaders across the region, including within the current cabinet of Barbados.

In 2021, the SRC introduced a shorter, three-month course leading to a Postgraduate Diploma in International Trade Policy (PGITP), with the option for graduates to later complete the full Master’s degree. The SRC also offers individual short courses in trade and tailor-made courses on demand, including courses on trade and sustainable-related topics.

The faculty at the SRC includes leading regional and international trade experts, enhancing the educational experience through various outreach and research activities like webinars, policy briefs, and newsletters. This robust educational framework ensures that SRC graduates are well-prepared to drive forward the trade agendas of their respective countries and the broader region.

Expanding SRC’s Impact in the Sustainability Space

Although the SRC has encountered challenges over the years primarily due to the financial difficulties associated with attending the in-person courses in Barbados, demand remains robust, as evidenced by significant increases in application numbers whenever financial support is available. For example, a notable surge in enrollment occurred when the OECS Commission provided 30 scholarships for the program between 2019 and 2020, funded by the OACPS under the Trade.Com II Project.

In response to these changing needs and the shift toward online education prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the SRC has made significant adaptations to its programme delivery and research agenda. The MITP and other short courses are now available in a hybrid/online format. This change has made the program more accessible and financially feasible for a broader audience, allowing students to participate without relocating. This saves on living expenses, while allowing them to continue their professional engagements.

Additionally, the SRC has been proactive in integrating sustainability and inclusivity into its curriculum. Recent years have seen the introduction of dedicated short courses focusing on trade-related aspects of the blue economy, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and gender issues, either as standalone offerings or as part of the MITP electives. These curriculum enhancements, along with the online delivery format, position the SRC’s programs as cost-effective and highly relevant to the specific trade and sustainability challenges faced by CARICOM countries. Moreover, the SRC’s strong international connections and its faculty’s expertise in sustainable and inclusive trade provide students with unparalleled access to global platforms and international advice, further enhancing the value and impact of its educational offerings.

What’s next?

As we look forward, the SRC’s role in shaping the region’s trade policies will be pivotal. By fostering an educated and well-prepared cadre of officials and trade experts, CARICOM can ensure its trade practices contribute effectively to sustainable and inclusive development. The continued success of these efforts will rely on the active participation from all sectors of society, donor agencies, and government support to ensure that the Caribbean remains adaptive and proactive in the face of global trade challenges.

Dr Jan Yves Remy is Director of Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy and Services at the UWI, Cave Hill (www.shridathramphalcentre.com); and Co-Lead of the Remaking Trade for A Sustainable Future Project (www.remakingtradeproject.org)