The Hon. Mia Amor Mottley has become the first Barbados Prime Minister in nearly four decades to testify before the American Congress, after speaking at a hearing yesterday: 'When Banks Leave: the Impact of De-Risking on the Caribbean and the Strategies for Ensuring Financial Access'.

The background to this has been years with large foreign financial institutions withdrawing or scaling back their presence and services in the Caribbean, making it difficult for many in the region to access financial services and putting a strain on business.

In April this year, a Roundtable Discussion on De-Risking was held in Barbados, bringing together Caribbean leaders, regional officials and US representatives, including the head of the US House Committee on Financial Services, Congresswoman Maxine Waters. At that meeting, specific measures were identified to address de-risking including:

  • the need for technical assistance for legal and regulatory harmonisation
  • a consortium bank pilot project for the region
  • programmes to support small and medium-sized banks to offer correspondent banking services, and
  • the need to create an annual US-Caribbean Banking Forum to keep these issues at the forefront and to address them head on.

In yesterday's hearing, the PM made direct pleas to the committee to stop "driving our (Caribbean) countries underground and making our countries uncompetitive". She warned that the very thing that you set out to achieve, which is the avoidance of terrorism financing and the avoidance of money laundering on which we are all agreed, is likely to happen because you’re driving people underground... There is no benefit in driving our countries underground or making our countries uncompetitive such that our economies are at risk of becoming underdeveloped or failed states."

She said Caricom has been "making noise" on this issue for almost a decade, thanking the committee as "that noise cannot continue."

Mottley stressed the impact on individual CARICOM citizens, who should have the right to open a bank account and access affordable banking services to permit trade and the flow of remittances, and the undeniable fact that the region’s economies are unable to function on their own.  

“Our economies cannot function on their own. We do not make enough clothes; we do not produce our own food; we do not produce our own equipment.  Therefore, unless we are able to trade with the rest of the world, we are at risk of becoming financial pariahs,” Ms. Mottley warned.

Listen to the PMs statement in full below: