Image: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman makes remarks to CARICOM Secretary General Carla Barnett and CARICOM Foreign Ministers during a virtual meeting in September 2021. Source: U.S. Department of State.
The Ninth Summit of the Americas will take place from June 6-10 in Los Angeles, California. According to the U.S. Department of State, the Summit represents a major diplomatic event because it is the “only hemispheric meeting of leaders from the countries of the Americas…to serve as the most important forum to address our region’s shared challenges and opportunities.”
Yet, many observers accuse the upcoming Summit of generating yawns and causing friction over who gets invited to Los Angeles, especially regarding Cuba and the competing governments in Venezuela. This friction has led to a sharp debate in the Caribbean. The world has radically changed since the Sino-American Trade War (2018-present), the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-present), and the Russo-Ukrainian War(2022-present), each of which caused economic disruption and hardships. However, with new challenges come new opportunities, something the Caribbean and the United States should consider if they are looking to improve their relationship.
What are feasible proposals for the Summit of the Americas to address Caribbean nations vis-à-vis the United States? By feasible, we mean items that are relatively non-controversial, easy to deliver, and do not require new legislation or the expenditure of significant resources. There are a surprising number of items that Summit leaders can push, especially in considering the importance of the creative and orange economies.
Innovation Hubs for the Creative and Orange Economies
Several international organizations, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and regional organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), have identified the utility of innovation hubs for the creative and orange economies. One model is Ruta N in Medellín, which brings together science, technology, and innovation under one roof. It attracts talent, capital, and global companies to develop and strengthen the innovative and entrepreneurial business fabric of Medellín. Under one institutional roof, Ruta N brings together business people, academics, investors, and students.
Innovation hubs can develop capacity by collaborating with international organizations, such as the World Bank Group (International Finance Corporation), the IDB, and the European Union through the Economic Partnership Agreement with CARIFORUM. Caribbean jurisdictions can partner with the U.S. and Canada through national governments, state/provincial governments, and universities. Courses on Caribbean culture, including music, dance, carnival, and visual art, are already popular and can be commercialized.
Most multinational enterprises (MNEs) have corporate social responsibility programs, many of which have direct investment and sell their products and services in the Caribbean. Hence, MNEs can help raise their visibility as good corporate citizens by partnering with Caribbean private and public organizations in developing innovation hubs. Many Caribbean cultural products become cross-over, that is, a fusion of Caribbean and other cultures. In addition to raising their visibility as good corporate citizens, MNEs can develop new profitable products by participating in the building of innovation hubs.
Examples of U.S. MNEs actively working in the creative and orange economies include IBM, Zoom Video Communications, T-Mobile, Oracle, Cisco, AT&T (and its subsidiary WarnerMedia), Adobe, Intel, Verizon, Comcast, Netflix, Nvidia, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.
By recognizing the need to facilitate the establishment of innovative hubs, especially for the creative and orange economies, the U.S. government can call a meeting between some of the leading U.S. companies, Caribbean governments, and the leading private sector businesses in this sector. If preparation for the Summit had been more diligent, this focus could have been included private sector program at the Summit—especially since it takes place in Los Angeles, a city close to the headquarters of the companies working in this sector.
Cooperation in tourism provides an opportunity to help trade in services and investment in both the U.S. and Caribbean countries. In this respect, the U.S. and Caribbean countries should conclude bilateral (or even multilateral) agreement(s) on the development and facilitation of tourism similar to the ones the U.S. has established with other countries. These agreements provide, inter alia, for establishing government tourism offices and stationing personnel in each other’s territory; promoting the development of the tourism industry and infrastructure in each other’s territory; facilitating and encouraging binational cultural events; simplifying travel documents; saving certain visa fees; and promoting foreign investment in the tourism sectors.
These agreements also authorize cultural tourism programs, tourism training, the exchange of tourism statistics, joint marketing of tourism, periodic consultations, and additional tourism-related protocols.
According to the International Trade Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019, international visitors spent USD $233.5 billion experiencing the U.S. The visits brought $640 million a day into the U.S. economy, a hefty sum. The U.S. travel and tourism industry generated $1.9 trillion in economic output. It supported 9.5 million American jobs and accounted for 2.9 percent of U.S. GDP. At 14.5 percent of international travel spending globally, international travelers spend more in the United States than any other country.
On April 4, 2022, the U.S. and Greek governments signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on tourism cooperation, updating the previous one signed 31 years ago. The five-year MOU obligates the two governments to “exchange best practices in travel and tourism and tourism promotion, in innovation and digitization of provided tourism services, as well as information on investment opportunities, tourism statistics, data research, tourism policy and developments in the global tourism market, including new tourism products and services, know-how for the development of specific forms of tourism and for upgraded tourism education and training.” The U.S. can extend an agreement with similar stipulations to a number of Caribbean countries.
A further option the U.S. executive branch should consider is calling a meeting between state travel and tourism programs and those of the Caribbean to have them explore their own travel and tourism cooperation. Many long-trip tourists, such as ones from northern Europe and Asia, like to travel to the U.S. and the Caribbean on the same trip. If there were joint tourism products, such as plantocracy tourism, cultural tourism packages, and discounts on hotels and restaurants with operations in both the U.S. and the Caribbean, long-distance tourists would have an incentive to participate in joint tourism programs. Some U.S. states have already concluded their own tourism agreements with foreign countries. For example, California has a tourism agreement with Mexico and an MOU with Israel. The agreements would help not only the Caribbean countries but the participating U.S. states as well.
Another potential area for travel and tourism cooperation is study tours. Professional organizations, including universities, bar associations, architect associations, and organizations like National Geographic, organize their own cross-border educational programs. The study tours allow a tourist to spend time in a Caribbean country while studying aspects such as architecture, local and regional politics, sectors such as financial services, and the role of academics in the local and regional educational systems.
Study programs can appeal to naturalists, historians, healthcare professionals, high school and college students, and persons interested in programs oriented toward music, literature, theater, and arts and crafts.
Jamaica has entertainment tourism, such as Reggae Sumfest. Most of the Caribbean has cultural tourism linked to Carnivals. Regional tourism is also connected to cricket matches, calypso contests, fishing tournaments, jazz festivals, and sailing regattas. For example, St. Lucia has fishing tournaments. At Christmas time, Trinidadians celebrate their Spanish roots when they play parang, a traditional style of music, and eat pastelle, fruit cake, black cake, and sweet bread. The U.S. executive branch should show leadership in asking state travel and tourism agencies in the U.S. and their Caribbean counterparts to consider cooperation in travel and tourism programs.
There are other U.S.-Caribbean economic options to consider, such as nearshoring. Although not a new concept, nearshoring reflects one of the key realities of a retreat in globalization and the development of regionalism. This trend is already very much in motion; many Central American countries and the Dominican Republic have embraced nearshoring and are benefiting from it. The Summit of the Americas should be used as a forum to give nearshoring a push in the Caribbean by bringing together business leaders, national heads, and economic policymakers to discuss how to further this development, especially considering that U.S.-Chinese relations remain barely cordial and the Russo-Ukraine War is placing new strains on globalized supply chains.
The Summit of the Americas should be a choreographed celebration instead of a scramble to look for policy options. Hopefully, the meeting will be worth its aspirations, but much will depend on what the Biden administration offers up as a menu of options.
Bruce Zagaris is a partner with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP, fellow with the Caribbean Policy Consortium, and former lecturer at the Law Faculty of the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados.
Scott B. MacDonald is the chief economist at Smith’s Research & Gradings, Research Fellow at Global Americans, and founding director of the Caribbean Policy Consortium. His latest book, The New Cold War, China and the Caribbean, is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan.
 For additional background on opportunities for cooperation on the creative and orange economies between the U.S. and the Caribbean, see Bruce Zagaris and Alexander Mostaghimi, Get Up, Stand Up!: The Need to Facilitate the Creative and Orange Economies in the Caribbean (with), GlobalAmericans, April 6, 2022 https://theglobalamericans.org/2022/04/get-up-stand-up-the-need-for-the-caribbean-to-facilitate-the-creative-and-orange-economies/?fbclid=IwAR0bi8o58lnCNVf6SGZxucZqGvKQHPqEF3176404ebUedBbws54FhPBGhnM.
 For additional background see Bruce Zagaris and Louis Emory, Tourism: The Orphan of Caribbean Policy, published in the JOURNAL OF TRAVEL RESEARCH 24 (Winter 1988).
 Travel and Tourism Industry, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, updated, accessed May 22, 2022. https://www.trade.gov/travel-tourism-industry#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20travel%20and%20tourism%20industry%20generated%20%241.9%20trillion%20in,States%20than%20any%20other%20country.
 Maria Paravantes, Greece-US Expand Cooperation in Tourism Ahead of new Season, April 5, 2022. https://news.gtp.gr/2022/04/05/greece-us-expand-cooperation-in-tourism-ahead-of-new-season/.
 For additional background on the potential for tourism between the U.S. states and the Caribbean, see Bruce Zagaris and Scott Buzzard, “Renewed American Focus Can Bring Regional Tourism Dividends” The Bahamas Tribune, August 26, 2016. https://issuu.com/thetribune242/docs/08182016_business?e=24475053/37999264.