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How China’s Economic Success Contributes to Caribbean Prosperity (2)

By DeLisle Worrell (People's Daily Online)    10:50, February 12, 2018

Small countries like those in the Caribbean do not face the dilemma of favouring Chinese imports over local production, because there are no local substitutes for the great majority of products we import from China. For our countries, the benefit of importing products and services of comparable quality from China in preference to more expensive sources is clear.

The point to be made is that the greatest benefit to the Caribbean from Chinese economic growth comes from taking full advantage of the Chinese contribution to the global availability of goods and services. No action on the part of Caribbean governments is necessary. People of the region are availing themselves of the opportunities on their own initiative, by importing from China and other affordable sources in Asia. As a result, there have been real gains in the quality of life and the access to goods and services, throughout the region.

China has been the catalyst in making the sun a practical natural resource

It used to be said that the islands of the Caribbean were poorly endowed with natural resources. Many people still think that to be true. But, on the contrary, the Caribbean is richly endowed with resources which have been made valuable by the advance of technology. Fifty years ago, the beaches, climate, natural beauty and resort facilities of the Caribbean were not as valuable as they have now become, because in the era before there were commercial jet aircraft, the average middle income earner in North America and Europe could not afford an overseas vacation. Our natural resources were always there, but they could only be monetized on a relatively small scale, because the cost of travel was prohibitive, except for the very wealthy. Barbadians will be aware that tourism was a source of income for Barbados as early as the 18th century. Our earliest visitors, among them the first American President and his older brother, came to Barbados literally for their health. However, up until the 1960s, only the very wealthy could afford a Caribbean vacation. Mr Bill Mallalieu, proprietor of the Mallalieu Motor Museum, tells a marvelous tale from the 1930s of a wealthy English family who brought their automobile with them on the ship from their home in the UK, registered it with Barbadian plates for the three months they remained in Barbados, and then shipped back when they left.

The Boeing 707 changed the face of travel and tourism, and made the natural qualities of Caribbean resorts the basis for a tourism industry which has become the most important source of growth for the region. In very similar fashion, the affordable PV panel, which has become available thanks to China’s entry into the world market as the leading producer, has converted the Caribbean’s abundant sunshine into a usable natural resource. Every Caribbean country now has the possibility of replacing fossil fuels for all power needs, using available, affordable technology. The sun, wind, our rivers and thermal springs, have now become of immense value, thanks to a number of new technological developments. These include more efficient wind turbines; computer programmes and communications to permit thousands of small producers to join the national electric grid;cars, buses and other transport run entirely on electricity; and storage systems to supply power when there is no wind or sunlight. China is already a game changer in one of these technologies, by reducing the cost of PV to a level that makes it competitive with fossil fuels, and the Caribbean, along with the rest of the world, stands to reap immense benefit. Chinese production may also have a decisive impact on reducing the cost of battery storage systems, an area where Chinese companies, along with Elon Musk, the founder of the Tesla motor company, and others, are making massive investments.

The fact that practical, affordable technologies are currently on the market which can supply 100 percent of the power needs of the Caribbean from wind, the sun and thermal sources, has transformative potential for the Caribbean, which the regions’ leaders have yet to discern. Every Caribbean nation can now supply all the power it needs for the electric grid, for cars, cycles, buses, trucks, trains, construction equipment, cooking, and every other requirement, from sources that are entirely free of cost, and infinite in supply. In the words of the late Dr Oliver Headley, the Caribbean’s distinguished pioneer of solar photovoltaics, "The sun will still shine when the oil runs out." And you don't have to pay to dig or pump it out of the ground. The Caribbean needs to wake up to the fact that every day our countries receive more free energy from the sun and the wind than we could possibly need; until very recently we lacked the technologies to make practical use of that free energy. We did not have batteries efficient enough to power cars, buses and trucks; we did not have systems to manage complex electricity grids; we were short of suitable storage systems to cope with variable electricity supply; now all these are available and affordable. And we did not have affordable solar PV systems; thanks to Chinese mass producers, these too are now widely available and affordable.

The transformative potential of renewable energy for Caribbean economies cannot be overestimated. If the Caribbean had no need to import fossil fuels, the foreign exchange saved could be used to invest in additional capacity to produce goods and services and grow our economies. Since we do produce some fossil fuels in the region, this output could be exported, adding to foreign earnings and growth potential. What is more, these additional resources of foreign exchange would be available each and every year; the rate of growth of every country would rise to a higher level, permanently. Growth rates of the order of 5 percent or more might become the norm. However, progress towards this goal will take place rapidly only if governments in the region catch the vision and develop strategies which provide incentives in the right direction. In the absence of government direction, the enormous potential of renewable energy for the Caribbean may not be realized at all.

The underlying message in this section of my essay is that China has played a pivotal role in creating for the Caribbean – and countries worldwide – the potential for a 100 percent switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of power. Caribbean governments can take advantage by instituting appropriate policies and incentives for the transformation, entirely without reference to China. China has provided the world with a huge "external economy", in economic terms. And it is up to Caribbean leaders to take advantage.


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(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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