One People. One Destiny. Uniting and Reimagining our Future.” This was the theme of the inaugural AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum in 2022, hosted in Barbados.

Fast forward just over a year, and Africa and the Caribbean have cemented yet another milestone, through the establishment of a branch of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in Barbados, to provide access to funding for global trade, investment and development between the two regions.

The Bank officially opened its Caribbean branch office in Barbados on August 4, 2023. The ribbon cutting on this momentous occasion was jointly performed by the Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank. Lauding the opening of the Caribbean office, Prime Minister Mottley noted, “This is not just a proud moment historically, but it is also a move that makes sense that will benefit our regional private sector and our regional state-owned corporations who need access to a more empathetic, reasonable bank and one willing to take risks that would allow our people to move and grow to the next level.”

Several dignitaries from Africa and the Caribbean including, Hon. Ralph Everard Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Hon. Phillip. J. Pierre, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Hon. Dickon Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, H.E. Obasanjo, the Former President of Nigeria, were in attendance to celebrate this historic partnership, further solidifying the strategic South-South relations among the economies.

Role of the Afreximbank

The Afreximbank, a Pan-African multilateral financial institution, was established in 1993 to finance and promote intra- and extra- African trade, with its vision to be the Trade Finance Bank for Africa. Afreximbank’s clients include large corporations, governments, specialised agencies and financial institutions. The Bank is headquartered in Cairo, Egypt, with branches in Côte d’ Ivoire, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe and now, for the first time outside of Africa, in Barbados. Its total assets and guarantees are valued at more than US$31 billion, with shareholder funds totalling US$5.2 billion at the end of 2022.

The opening of the Caribbean office comes on the heels of Afreximbank’s approval of US$1.5 billion in funding, which is earmarked for public and private sector institutions in the CARICOM member states that ratified the Partnership Agreement with the Bank, to access its range of financial instruments in sectors such as agriculture, agribusiness, healthcare, mining, renewable energy and shipping. Afreximbank has since committed to increasing the funding limit over time to US$3 billion, as partnerships with member states and bankable deals increase.

Barbados Based Branch – First in the Caribbean

This local branch of the Afreximbank is of major significance to the Caribbean community. According to President Oramah, “With the launch of the [Caribbean] office, we can look forward to a smoother implementation of trade and access to finance initiatives, broader business origination across the [Caribbean] and more impactful results from our partnership…” His optimistic outlook for the regional branch is for Caribbean and African finance systems to become better integrated in the future. The Bank also intends to address the challenges associated with inter-regional trade and trade between Africa and the Caribbean, as it seeks to create mutual and feasible transportation linkages. As such, Afreximbank’s funding will include provisions for guarantees and project preparation facilities to companies wishing to invest in this essential logistics sector.

The Caribbean, and Barbados specifically, remains committed to building on its Commonweath and African, Caribbean and Pacific links with African countries to forge stronger bilateral and multilateral ties. Prime Minister Mottley wholeheartedly agreed that it was time for Caribbean people to be able to access capital “to build out our region and ensure that they can create the platforms for prosperity.”

Why Barbados?

Barbados was recognised as the natural choice for Afreximbank to establish its Caribbean office – a “significant signal of confidence”. Barbados has long shared and deep linkages with countries on the African continent, both historically and culturally, and continues to engage with these countries, strengthening relationships and collaborating on mutual interests. Consequently, the decision was well-received and supported by the Government of Barbados and CARICOM countries. In fact, it was Prime Minister Mottley who extended the invitation that facilitated Afreximbank’s first official visit to Barbados. For several years, Prime Minister Mottley has been strategic in her engagements with leaders of African countries, particularly in Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda, with whom she has built meaningful and lasting partnerships.

Apart from the country’s goal of becoming a gateway for African trade and investment into the western hemisphere, Barbados continues to build on its success as a business hub in the Caribbean due to its long history of political and social stability, strong and effective leadership, expanding treaty network, educated workforce, modern telecommunications and transport infrastructure, as well as its excellent quality of life. The African Caribbean solidarity and synergies that have been nurtured by Barbados and other members of CARICOM have served to bolster the South-South relationship African and Caribbean governments strive to preserve and further develop.

Next Steps for the Afreximbank Caribbean Branch

The Afreximbank’s officials reported that their experience in establishing operations in Barbados was seamless, with Invest Barbados being instrumental in coordinating preparations for the establishment of the branch. Subsequent to the launch, the Bank has concentrated its efforts on the delivery of “fit-forpurpose” programmes to benefit public and private sector entities within the region. This includes engaging with major players such as central and commercial banks as well as other corporate institutions involved in trade and trade enabling activities. As part of the engagement process to adequately address the needs of CARICOM member states, the Bank conducted fact-finding missions in the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana (which hosted the second annual AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum in October 2023), St. Kitts and Nevis and Suriname.

The Bank is aiming to provide financing support to critical sectors in the region, including the hospitality industry, which is the stronghold of Barbados, the renewable energy sector to take advantage of geo-thermal and wind energy potentials in the region, the agricultural sector and investment in the blue economy, as well as the creative industries and the orange economy. The Bank plans to extend to the region the gains from the Creative Africa Nexus (CANEX) programme through which it has supported the creative industries in Africa.

Among other initiatives under consideration and geared towards facilitating ease of doing business regionally and globally, is the Pan African Payment and Settlement System, as well as the MANSA repository, a pan-African customer due diligence repository for financial institutions, corporate entities and small and medium-sized enterprises, developed to address the perceived risk of doing business in Africa and with Africans. Additionally, the Bank is in the nascent stage of collaborating with the CARICOM Secretariat to establish the CARICOM EXIM Bank, to which significant investment from Afreximbank will be injected.

Over the longer term, the Bank has plans to construct a future-focused, iconic mixed-use business and trade centre complex as part of its permanent footprint on the island. This will help bring the Bank’s unique programmes and facilities closer to partners within the region.

This is an exciting time for African and Caribbean countries. With many developments in the pipeline, vast possibilities abound for the two regions, which although different and separated by the Atlantic, have many synergies – both sharing a resilient spirit based on their shared past. The Afreximbank is accelerating the vital process of bridging the gap through its promotion and development of South-South trade and investment between Africa and the Caribbean from its home base in Barbados.