The Caribbean

Australia-Caribbean Relations

Australia’s relations with the countries of the Caribbean are largely based on shared historical, sporting, social and political ties, pursuit of common interests including implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty, as well as joint membership of the Commonwealth.  Sporting ties include a shared love of cricket and netball, as well as participation in events such as the Commonwealth Games.  There are on-going efforts to diversify our economic relations across the region.

Australia maintains a diplomatic mission in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Australia's High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago is also the Australian Ambassador to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and is accredited to Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.  The Australian High Commission also has consular responsibilities for Anguilla, Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Australian Embassy in Mexico City is accredited to the Dominican Republic.

Australia also has Honorary Consulates in Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica.

Australia has a relatively small population of approximately 3,000 migrants (2011 Census) of Caribbean descent.

Regional Overview

The Caribbean region is approximately the size of eastern Australia, comprising the Caribbean Sea, islands and surrounding coasts, with over 700 islands, islets, reefs and quays.  The Caribbean islands are organised into 30 territories, including sovereign states, overseas departments and dependencies.  The islands are generally in the form of island arcs, including in the north the Greater Antilles (including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica) and in the east and south the Lesser Antilles (including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago).  The region can also include the Lucayan Archipelago (including The Bahamas).  The islands are linked by a similar culture and history. 

Belize, Guyana and Suriname are often included as part of the region as their outlook tends to be more Caribbean than Latin American, particularly through Commonwealth and cricket links for Belize and Guyana.  They are also members of the Caribbean Community.

Former colonial influences are reflected in the main languages: English, French, Spanish and Dutch and various Creoles of each.

Although the Caribbean countries vary considerably in their degree of economic development, many in the region also face similar challenges: susceptibility to natural disasters and extreme climate events, vulnerability to global economic changes and, in some places, high crime rates.

Regional Organisations at a Glance

The Caribbean states have made significant efforts to integrate their economies and increase their cohesiveness in multilateral organisations.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is the peak regional organisation.  It comprises 15 members and is predominately the English-speaking Caribbean plus Suriname and Haiti.  CARICOM focuses on enhancing greater regional integration and establishment of a comprehensive single market economy.

Other key regional institutions include the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).  The ACS represents 25 members of the Greater Caribbean, including some Central and South American countries.  It has the broad aims of promoting regional cooperation and addressing regional issues such as sustainable tourism including preservation of the Caribbean Sea, disaster management, transport and trade.  The OECS is a sub-regional grouping of six eastern Caribbean countries and three UK dependent territories and is dedicated to economic integration and greater foreign policy harmonisation among members, protection of human and legal rights, and the promotion of good governance. 

Many Caribbean countries are also members of the network of Small Island Developing States, an initiative of the United Nations Development Program that assists with technical assistance and advice in areas including climate change adaptation and management of natural resources.

Development Assistance

From 2010 to 2014, Australia provided A$60 million in official  development assistance to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) including 128 scholarships, 70 fellowships, 25 volunteers and training for 61 diplomats.

The regional program has now closed, though some activities that have already been funded will continue until 2018.

Economic overview

At a glance

For latest economic data refer to specific Caribbean Country Fact Sheets (PDF)

The economies of the Caribbean are strikingly diverse.  The GDP of several of the smaller islands (Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis and St. Vincent & the Grenadines) is in the range of US$500 - US$900 million (2013).  The largest Caribbean economy, the Dominican Republic, has a population of approximately 10 million and a GDP around US$60 billion (2013).  Trinidad and Tobago, with a population of 1.3 million, is the leading Caribbean producer of oil and gas and has a GDP of approximately US$28 billion (2013).  In contrast, Haiti, which is ranked 168th in the world according to the Human Development Index (United Nations Development Programme, 2014), has a population of 10 million and a GDP around US$8 billion (2013).

More broadly, many Caribbean countries have experienced low or periodically negative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth since 2000, with more severe downturns concurrent with the global economic recessions in 2001-2 and 2009.  This economic environment, together with recurring extreme weather events and modest national incomes, has had a particularly adverse impact on some Caribbean economies.

Economic and Trade Policy Directions

Whilst the agriculture sector and tourism have traditionally accounted for significant employment and GDP growth, financial services and mining and resources investment have increasingly become leading contributors to economic growth. Caribbean countries have recognised the need to diversify their economies in part to offset the vulnerabilities of small island states to fluctuations in global economic activity and subsequent tourism flows.

CARICOM member states - with the exception of Haiti and the Bahamas – are party to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which is designed to strengthen foreign investment and enhance export opportunities for participating countries.  Key intended outcomes of the CSME include the free movement of goods, services, capital and people and a common trade policy.  It is also mandated to assist in the harmonisation of company and intellectual property laws as well as managing macro-economic issues including the coordination of exchange rate and interest rate policies.  These objectives are intended to stimulate long-term economic development and improve living standards.  However, there has been limited progress in the implementation of CSME objectives in recent years.

A separate but important dimension of the Caribbean's broad economic position is its membership of Petro-Caribe - with the exception of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.  Established in 2005, Petro-Caribe is an arrangement between Venezuela and 18 Caribbean and Central American states to purchase oil on conditions of preferential or deferred payment.  Where many Caribbean countries are small island economies and are net fuel imports, the Petro-Caribe scheme plays an important role in their energy security.   

Trade and Investment

Whilst Australia-Caribbean two way trade is relatively low, it is growing modestly.  In 2013, Australia's total merchandise trade with member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was valued at around A$67 million.  Australia's major exports to the Caribbean include meat (excluding beef) and cheese.  Australia's imports from the Caribbean include essential oils and perfumes and alcoholic beverages.  Trinidad and Tobago is Australia's major trading partner in the Caribbean with two-way merchandise trade around A$26 million in 2013 (exports A$16 million, imports A$10 million).  Further information can be found at individual country fact sheets.

The Caribbean region is growing as a destination for Australian foreign direct investment.  While investment in the oil and gas sector by companies such as BHP Billiton accounts for a large proportion of the traditional direct investment, there are potential investment opportunities in mining, education, services and engineering/infrastructure.  Opportunities also exist in the Caribbean related to communication, transport and public utilities including environment and health care management.

Export opportunities

Possible niche trade opportunities for Australian exporters include:

Mining and related services

Opportunities exist in the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago including in the offshore oil and gas sectors.

Fast ferries

There is scope for ferries and related services within the region, especially in the Eastern Caribbean as an alternative to expensive inter-island air transport.  The tourist sector generates a requirement for light water craft, including for leisure activities.

Tourism and related infrastructure

The economic backbone of many small Caribbean countries is tourism.  This creates opportunities for Australian companies in the area of resort development and management.  Tourist industry services, such as hospitality training, are another area of potential investment.

Food and beverage

The region imports processed food both for the domestic market and to cater for tourists visiting the region.  This generates demand for good quality international items such as cheese, meat and wine.

New technologies

These include construction, computers and computer accessories.  Deregulation of telecommunications sectors in the region and the upgrading of facilities offer opportunities in telecommunications hardware and software.

Power generation

The cost of traditional sources of power generation (ie petroleum products) is a major burden for Caribbean economies.  With an abundance of sun and wind, many of these countries enjoy something of a comparative advantage where alternative technologies for power generation are concerned.

Education

There is a demand for education services, particularly tertiary education, outside the region which is currently largely met by the US and Canada.  Australian institutions are in a strong position to compete in this market.

High level visits

May 2010:  Then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hon Stephen Smith, visited Dominica to address the thirteenth CARICOM meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).  This was the first visit by an Australian Minister to Dominica and the first time an Australian Minister addressed the CARICOM COFCOR meeting.

2011:  Then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd, attended the COFCOR meeting in St Kitts and Nevis.  

October 2011:  Then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd hosted Australia-CARICOM and Commonwealth and Small Island Developing States meetings, in the margins of CHOGM in Perth. 

January/February 2012:  Then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Foreign Affairs, the Hon Richard Marles visited the Caribbean region in September 2012 and separately attended the COFCOR meeting in Suriname in May 2012.

May 2012:  Then Parliamentary Secretary Richard Marles attended the COFCOR meeting in Suriname.

June 2012:  St Lucia Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste visited Australia.

October 2012:  Then Australian Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Ms Penny Williams, visited Trinidad and Tobago.

September 2012:  Then Parliamentary Secretary Richard Marles visited Haiti.

May 2013:  Guyana Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud visited Australia.

April 2014:  Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Bronwyn Bishop, visited Trinidad & Tobago.