Migration from the British West Indies (BWI) seeking work in overseas countries and territories commenced in the 1860s and continued. Today, the main concentration of migrants from CARICOM member states is in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. A rough estimate has the total combined CARICOM diaspora in the U.K., U.S. and Canada numbering about 3.4 million; 600,000 in the U.K., two million in the U.S., and 800,000 in Canada. The majority of people are from Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
Besides Jamaica, other CARICOM member states engaging with their diaspora in North America and Europe are Haiti, Guyana, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. An important area for engagement is trade and investment. Jamaica’s National Foreign Trade Policy and Draft Diaspora Policy identify this as an important area for co-operation.
Diaspora demand stimulated exports of non-traditional products from the region into the U.K., U.S. and Canada. These non-traditional products include fruits, vegetables, ground provisions, sauces, condiments and baked goods.
By opening stores, restaurants and bakeries, members of the diaspora introduced the wider population to the culture, products and cuisine of the Caribbean. Non-traditional exports have been growing. The diaspora is still seen as a niche market for the region.
The World Bank, Commonwealth and others see the potential of the CARICOM diaspora as a united force for advocacy and promoting regional growth and development. But how coordinated is this diaspora in the U.K., U.S. and Canada?
The CARICOM diaspora in the U.K. does not appear to have a formal structure, but is engaged through the CARICOM Caucus of High Commissioners and Ambassadors in London. They collaborated successfully from 2009 to 2015 to change the Air Passenger Duty policy and, more recently, on the Wind rush issue. A British-Caribbean Chamber of Commerce exists.
In 2017, the Ambassador of Guyana to the U.S. Dr. Riyad Insannally called for a more structured engagement between the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassadors in Washington, D.C. and the diaspora to advance the region’s causes. The largest concentration of CARICOM migrants is in the U.S. There’s the Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Caribbean-American Political Action Committee. June is designated Caribbean American Heritage Month. There is a Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which aims to promote and sustain trade and investment between the U.S. and Caribbean.
It does not appear, however, that the CARICOM diaspora is as well co-ordinated as it could be, especially in New York, New Jersey and Florida, which have the highest concentration of CARICOM migrants.
In Canada, the CARICOM population is concentrated in the province of Ontario, where the Caribbean Women’s Society, established in 2015, launched the Caribbean-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Community. There was a prior attempt to establish a Caribbean/Canadian Business Council. The Caribbean Women’s Society has taken the initiative to have October declared Caribbean Heritage Month in Ontario.
There is the CARICOM Caucus of High Commissioners and Ambassadors in Ottawa, which is also engaged with the diaspora in Ontario and other parts of Canada.
It is evident that some effort is being made to organize the CARICOM diaspora to improve their status in their countries of residence and promote the region’s interests. More needs to be done to co-ordinate and manage a CARICOM diaspora structure in the U.K., U.S. and Canada.
Currently, the priority of CARICOM member states is their national diaspora engagement. The potential is there for diaspora engagement on a regional level, but this is a work in progress which needs further encouragement from the region.
The newly established Caribbean Chamber of Commerce (CARICHAM) could be looking at partnering with Caribbean chambers in the U.K., U.S. and Canada.
To sustain growth within the region and to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, partnering to increase trade and investment flows is essential.