Islands Seek to Reverse Trade Losses
Small Islands Seek to Reverse Trade Losses
The Mauritius Conference Will Gauge Solutions Such as Increased Market
Access, Information Technology and Renewable Energy
(New York, 10 December 2004) ? Concerned about their mixed economic
performance over the last decade and the risk of marginalization in the
challenging economic conditions resulting from globalization, small island
nations expect a number of steps to be taken at the Mauritius International
Meeting on small islands developing States (10-14 January 2005) to help them
regain lost ground on trade and better achieve sustainable development.
Possible solutions include retaining market access preferences, expanding
information and communication technology (ICT), accelerating the use of
renewable energy, making tourism sustainable and better tapping the potential
of island cultures.
Trade liberalization, along with erosion of trade preferences, has had severe
consequences on fragile island economies. Existing preferential arrangements
were dismantled under agreed rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO),
affecting commodities like sugar, bananas, coffee and coconut, which small
islands used to rely upon for their exports. In St. Lucia for instance, export
revenues from bananas dropped from $46.5 million in 1996 to $21.7 million in
Small island developing States (SIDS) would like to be granted a more
differentiated and favourable treatment for their exports, to compensate for
the high, sometimes exorbitant economic costs resulting from their remoteness
and smallness, at least as an interim measure for such time as they need to
diversify their economies and overcome the disadvantages of reliance on a few
exportable products. SIDS also wish to benefit from greater market access for
their products and to gain a stronger say in multilateral trade negotiations,
to compensate for their inherent disadvantages in attracting investment. In
this regard, small island nations admit that they need help to enhance their
capacity for trade policy analysis and trade negotiations. Many SIDS feel very
strongly about this because only a few of them were part of the negotiations
at the WTO when such rules were agreed.
Information technology to reduce isolation
Better and more affordable access to the Internet has become a key factor in
the drive to connect island communities among themselves and to the rest of
the world. Since small islands are dispersed and face limited natural
resources and high transportation costs, information and communications
technology (ICT) offers them great opportunities, especially in areas such as
e-governance, tele-medicine, e-tourism and distance learning.
But small islands still face a number of constraints, including poor
telecommunications infrastructure, the high cost of computers and of dial-up
and leased lines to the Internet, restrictive telecommunications policies and
shortage of trained personnel. Future ICT projects would continue to largely
depend on external support from donor countries and on the private sector for
the islands' investment requirements in this area.
"Deliberate and prudent use of information technology will go a long way in
reducing the isolation of remote islands, enabling them to deal more
effectively with a host of constraints, particularly in trade, development,
health, education, security and technology transfer", said the
Secretary-General of the Mauritius Meeting, Anwarul K.Chowdhury.
Small island nations hope that investments will allow them to accelerate their
transition to sustainable energy services. The need for energy remains a major
source of economic vulnerability for many islands, due to their remoteness,
isolation and heavy dependence on imported petroleum products, especially for
local transport and electricity generated by thermal plants. And the cycles of
high petroleum prices versus low commodity prices have impacted negatively on
their terms of trade and on the momentum of their economies during the last 35
years. Moreover, many are dependent on biomass as their main source of
household energy, which has a negative impact on ecosystems.
Over the last decade, research has produced new, commercially feasible options
for energy supply, such as wind, solar and ocean tidal energy. Small island
nations are keen to develop an energy agenda through these options that would
be consistent with sustainable development principles and less prone to
disruption from external forces. That is why they seek support to undertake a
comprehensive assessment of their energy resources, to identify and develop
renewable energy that is affordable and readily adaptable.
In the fields of energy and transport, a promising experiment has been
initiated in Vanuatu, where coconut oil is being used, with very little
modification, as an alternative to diesel in automotive engines. More than 200
mini-buses already use a coconut oil/diesel mix, and a dozen use a pure
coconut oil fuel. Such a system is potentially less costly, at least in the
South Pacific, is environment-friendly and could stimulate employment among
local coconut growers and coconut oil producers.
Making tourism more sustainable
Islands are a natural attraction for tourists, and this in turn generates jobs
and much- needed revenue. But the tourism industry on some islands has reached
such a scale that it endangers those very ecosystems and cultures that attract
Tourism needs to be made more sustainable, to better benefit small island
nations while protecting their culture and traditions, and to effectively
conserve and manage freshwater and other natural resources. The continuing
challenge for small islands is to establish the appropriate balance between
tourism development and that of other sectors of the economy, given the limits
of their carrying capacity and the fact that tourism places demands on other
sectors of the economy. The impact of tourism on the economy of small islands
depends on the proportion of funds that are retained within the local economy.
Small islands seek the best ways to maximize their own economic gains, given
that their tourism industries are often dominated by foreign companies.
It should be noted that tourism is sensitive to external shocks, as shown by
the reduction in the numbers of tourists, and the revenues they provide to
SIDS, following the terrorist attacks against New York (9/11) and Bali, and
during the SARS health crisis in 2003.
Small islands have come to recognize the distinctiveness of their cultural
identities as a genuine economic asset. Cultural industries and initiatives
are an area in which small islands have a comparative advantage and which
offer a potential to diversify their economies and build their capacity to
adjust to the global economy. Some quintessential cultural products from
islands, like songs by the late Jamaican Bob Marley and by Capeverdian Cesaria
Evora, have already gained universal prominence.
Mr. François Coutu, UN Department of Public Information, Development Section
Tel.: (212) 963-9495, fax: (212) 963-1186, e-mail:
|The Mauritius Meeting is
expected to adopt a proactive strategy to
further implement the Barbados Programme,
which included issues such as climate change, natural disasters, wastes,
marine resources, freshwater, energy, biodiversity, transport and tourism.
The strategy will also address emerging problems such as market access,
HIV/AIDS and new security concerns, and new opportunities like the
economic potential of information technology and island culture.
Information on the conference is available at
http://www.un.org/smallislands2005/ . General rules and form for media