Caribbean Nations Hit Hard By US Recession

Caribbean nations are trying to blunt the impact of the U.S. recession on their small economies by boosting tourism marketing, lining up credit overseas and pooling their limited resources.

But the islands already are seeing a slump in foreign investment, slower economic growth and dropping tourist arrivals, with 2009 likely to bring even tougher times, participants said at the annual Miami Conference on the Caribbean this week.

That’s bad news for South Florida exporters, who depend on the Caribbean as a steady market, and for millions of area residents with Caribbean roots, who fear family and friends abroad could lose jobs and see crime spike.

The fallout varies widely among islands in the world’s most tourism-dependent region. Hardest hit are those nations most bound to the U.S. economy, such as the Bahamas, which depends largely on U.S. tourists, or Jamaica, a debt-strapped nation that needs lots of dollars to pay bills. Nations like Barbados, with little debt and many European visitors, face fewer difficulties, panelists said.

Oil importers, such as the Dominican Republic, enjoy some relief from falling energy prices. But oil exporters, such as Trinidad & Tobago, are seeing revenues slide and cutting spending, speakers said.

In Jamaica, economic growth has been virtually wiped out already, with growth estimates reduced from 3 percent to 0.5 percent for the fiscal year ending March 31. That’s despite new hotels, more visitors and increased tourism marketing, said Don Wehby, a Cabinet minister in finance.

Jamaica is seeking a new “social partnership” to confront the challenges, with the governing party, opposition, unions and business meeting to hammer out a consensus and share sacrifices, Wehby said.

“This is the time we need to unite as a Caribbean people,” said Wehby, suggesting closer ties among island nations.

Caribbean leaders said it’s tough to blunt the fallout when no one knows how long the U.S. crisis will be or how deep.


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