Growing Saudi influence after inaugural CARICOM Summit

1st December 2023

Saudi Arabia’s influence in the Caribbean appears to be on the rise following the conclusion of the inaugural Saudi Arabia-CARICOM Summit.

Held on 16 November in Riyadh, the main sessions were co-chaired by Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica and current CARICOM Chairman.

“There is a deepening interest of Saudi Arabia in the region and it is hoped that Jamaica will be able to capitalise on some of this stimulated interest by getting broader investments,” said Jamaica’s Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith.

The summit continues to be a significant talking point as several of the 15-member CARICOM bloc announce areas of cooperation and agreements as countries try to tap into the Saudi’s US$30bn soft loan fund.

“This week was an exceptional week and historic week in that we for the first time met with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a community to be able to ensure that we establish a new trajectory for our relations between the Kingdom and the Caribbean community,” said Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley on her return from Riyadh.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the summit the countries announced several initiatives. Both sides committed to consulting and exploring cooperation in several fields, including education, health, maritime collaboration, connectivity, logistics, food and energy security, and tourism, aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

CARICOM welcomed a proposal to establish an international water organisation based in Riyadh. They also aimed to strengthen trade and investment relations, promote cultural and creative industries, enhance tourism cooperation, and address climate change through reducing emissions and adopting clean energy technologies.

Saudi Arabia’s Middle East Green Initiative (MGI) and its US$2.5bn allocation for MGI projects and governance were acknowledged in the statement, with a focus on supporting Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

CARICOM has formally endorsed Saudi Arabia’s bid to host Expo 2030 in Riyadh and supported its candidacy to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup, an outcome which some political analysts say was the Kingdom’s primary objective of the summit.

Several Individual CARICOM countries also announced loan agreements with Saudi Arabia as the Saudi Development Fund (SFD) continues to expand its reach in the region including a recent US$41mn loan agreement with Dominica.

Barbados has revealed that some US$100mn in funding will be provided by the Saudi Fund for an urban renewal project geared towards providing adequate water facilities and proper housing solutions in the country.

St Vincent and the Grenadines announced an agreement for a further US$50mn in loans from the SFD, which brings the total agreed in 2023 to US$66mn. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that some US$30mn will be allocated to housing repair and reconstruction, while the balance will be used to develop sporting facilities, and other initiatives.

Meanwhile, St Kitts and Nevis revealed that discussions had taken place with the SFD to support efforts to improve water security including by offering the services of skilled engineers to supervise the design and construction of the desalination plant planned for 2024.

Prime Minister Terrance Drew also reported that the SFD had expressed the potential to provide the necessary financial support of US$20mn to cover the remaining expenses for the country’s geothermal project’s drilling efforts.

While Jamaica did not agree to any funding, the country signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which now gives the Andrew Holness Administration access to loan facilities. “In respect of Jamaica, we signed an MoU with the SFD which creates a framework for us to engage on concessional loan funding for national projects,” said Foreign Minister Johnson Smith.

“We have on offer from them, memoranda of understanding in particular to allow technical teams from Grenada to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia so that we can have further conversations in relation to policy, guidance, advise potential investment as well as opportunity for training, technology exchange and information,” said Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell on talks for assistance to the islands’ public healthcare services, including the building of a new teaching hospital.

Accompanying Prime Minister Keith Rowley, Chairman of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines also held talks on collaboration under the Saudi Air Connectivity Programme in line with its 2023 to 2027 strategic plan. Discussions were geared at seeking to expand its network and facilitate affordable travel to Saudi Arabia, especially for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

While some saw the summit as a means for Saudi Arabia to get CARICOM’s support for its Expo 2030 and World Cup bids, there is strong evidence that the region stands to benefit greatly from continued engagement with Riyadh. 

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.