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Whither St. Vincent and the Grenadines

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The main constraints on the development of small states are by now fairly well known. They are a miniscule domestic market and a paucity of natural resources. Several mini-states have systematically addressed these problems and to a large extent have overcome them. Central to their strategy has been the issue of accessibility. This should hardly come as a surprise.{{more}} Small states have little resources and, therefore, most things would have to be brought in, but in order to pay for these imports they have to have something to export. Hence trade plays a disproportionately large role in the development of any small state. To trade there must be access. At least two small states, probably because they started off as entrepôts, grasped the importance of transport infrastructure very early. They did not merely build an airport but some of the biggest airports in the world, and, not content with this, they went on to establish two of the biggest and most successful airlines. In SVG, it is only relatively recently that we started noting that it could not be mere coincidence that the two islands without international airports were also the poorest islands in the OECS.

Having improved their accessibility successful, small states have gone on to develop tourism, construction and manufacturing industries. They now even want to develop knowledge industries. These industries, however, understandably, have only emerged in economies where there are very strong research oriented universities. To solve this problem small states have tried to entice universities like Yale, Harvard and Stanford to establish campuses in their countries.

In SVG, however, there is no need for us to aim so high. The small states we have been talking about have populations of between one and two million. We have just about one tenth of the lower end of that range, a mere 100,000 or so. We will probably never have, nor do we need to have, many manufacturing industries, knowledge industries or even a major airline. However, we do already have some tourism and construction. Moreover, unlike the bigger small states we have been discussing, we have an abundance of water. Indeed given the weather over the last week, some people would say we have too much of it. The abundance of water allied to our volcanic soils means that we can and do practise agriculture. We may not be able to compete in international markets but we can produce for the domestic and regional market.

Also, we have been blessed with all the resources needed for developing alternative energy: an active volcano, constant trade winds and plentiful sunshine. Whilst the operational cost of wind and geothermal energy are very low, the establishment costs are very high. Our micro-state simply cannot afford to undertake them at the same time as we are building an airport. They will have to come later.

If the development issue in SVG is so straightforward, why is there still so much confusion? Bill Clinton, speaking in his capacity as leader of the UN Mission to Haiti, has given us a clue. He says we have a tendency to self destruct. It is very easy to see how this self destructive tendency arises in SVG. Clearly, our tiny state has only one or two options for development. At the same time, we practise a system of adversarial politics. Inevitably, therefore, the Opposition ends up coming out against the few options there are, without being able to come out with any alternative. How else does one explain the opposition to the International Airport?

For small states to develop, Government has to create strategic assets that would enable enterprises to emerge and flourish. There can be no greater strategic asset than an airport, a sound education system and a good energy and water infrastructure. To get all these assets in place requires strong leadership which is visionary, decisive and prepared to take risks.