The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has pledged a $700 million investment towards setting up a regional bureau in the Caribbean to support Africa-Caribbean trade.

But first, a partnership agreement must be signed to enable Afreximbank to operate in the island nations, which will clear the way for the bank to more than triple the $250 million it previously injected into the Afro-Caribbean trade.

“Afreximbank will open an office in the Caribbean, and if we do agree, the Bank will work with governments of the Caricom to set up a Caribbean Exim bank as an Afreximbank subsidiary,” Benedict Orama, president of Afreximbank said on Thursday at the inaugural Africaribbean Trade and Investment Forum in Barbados.

Trade between Africa and the Caribbean has been negligible despite historic linkages between the two blocs.

For example, while the island nations are awash with fish, Africa imports $4.5 billion of fish from the global market, with the Caribbean accounting for less than 1 percent of this trade, according to African Union statistics.

And while thousands of Africans visit the Caribbean annually — mainly for vacation — their hotel accommodation, transportation, and tourism services are mainly arranged by agencies that have their roots neither in Africa nor the Caribbean.“It is no wonder that Africa receives very little of the financial benefit from these services,” Orama said.

Tourism support

“To avert this, we will aim to support African investments in the Caribbean tourism sector; help promote local content in Guyana and elsewhere where the oil and gas sectors are emerging; support agro-processing projects; and support the project on intra-Caribbean and Africa-Caribbean payment rails.”From the East Africa, Rwanda and Kenya have embarked on a charm offensive to attract investors.

Rwanda’s State Minister for Regional Affairs, Manasseh Nshuti and the Deputy chief executive of Rwanda Development Board, Zephanie Niyonkuru, were in Barbados last week where they held several private meetings with officials and investors from the Caribbean in a bid to close business deals.“The Caribbean is a fast-growing region which the African continent has ignored for a very long time. This should no longer happen,” Mr Nshuti told The EastAfrican.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade Betty Maina highlighted the hurdles in the path to opening business links in the Caribbean.“I spent up to 30 hours in the air – which is more than a full day – on my way to Barbados. A plane from Africa has to first go to Europe or New York before it can go to the Caribbean. Comparatively, a direct flight from Africa to the Caribbean would take about six hours. Until this changes, Afro-Caribbean trade will remain a myth,” Ms Maina told The EastAfrican.

“It is good that Afreximbank is trying to break this deadlock and ease some of the persistent bottlenecks to trade with the Caribbean. A direct flight between Africa and the Caribbean would open up opportunities that you can hardly imagine.”

Kenya signed three trade and bilateral investment agreements with Barbados in 2021, meant to promote and enhance bilateral trade.

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