The Wall Street Journal / December 4, 1997
By Larry Luxner
Two years into his five-year term, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, 51, has had his share of diplomatic tussles to contend with. From Grenada's relationship with Cuba to trade with European Union members, Mr. Mitchell has made sure the views of his country are heard loud and clear in international political and business circles.
A mathematician by profession -- he studied and later taught at Washington's Howard University -- Mr. Mitchell returned to Grenada in 1984 and won a seat in the national parliament as a member of the New National Party. He is the incoming chairman of the 14-member Caribbean Community, whose annual summit will take place in Grenada next March.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Mitchell in which he discusses the country's prospects for growth and its role in the global marketplace:
Q: How have things changed in Grenada since you took office two and a half years ago?
A: "There is an upbeat mood as far as a willingness of people to take initiative, to do things for themselves. We came in on a platform that government is not the best avenue to create opportunities or jobs. I think the message is getting out. People are now getting involved in little businesses, setting up manufacturing and microenterprise activities. The perception of Grenada as a country that's not willing to settle down has certainly changed. I think we're settling down politically, and that is convincing people of the need to invest in this country."
Q: Your government is predicting GDP growth of 5% this year. Where is this growth coming from?
A: "Things are improving, and there is growth. It's just that we cannot [yet] feel any sense of comfort. The construction industry has been booming. More people are buying homes, not just those coming from England. Since we removed income tax, people have more disposable income and we've seen a lot of construction. There's no income tax in Grenada. That's why all these offshore companies want to come here."
Q: Earlier this year, you visited Cuba, and it is repted that you invited President Fidel Castro to pay a state visit Grenada next February. Given Grenada's recent history, are you worried about angering Washington?
A: "I hope [Washington will not] be concerned about our inviting a Caribbean head of state to Grenada. I think we have made our position very clear. Cuba was very helpful to Grenada in the 1979-83 period, particularly in the building of our international airport. That cannot be questioned. Besides that, it played a very crucial role in the development of our human resources, the education of hundreds of children of very poor parentage who would never have had an opportunity to become doctors and engineers. We therefore believe that if a country has gone out of its way to support you, the least you can do is recognize them for it. We are not doing anything behind the scenes, and we are not against anyone's security or national interests."
Q: What impact will NAFTA and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (to reduce tariffs by 2005) have on economies in the Caribbean?
A: "While the issue of free trade sounds like a worthwhile goal and while philosophically we all believe in it, the process to which we get there has to be looked at very carefully. Some countries are better-equipped in terms of human and material resources to compete and take advantage of this so-called trade liberalization. Obviously, others are not so lucky. Without the mechanism to protect and help those countries prepare themselves to compete, we'll be creating a dangerous social situation and marginalize those countries in a very serious way. If we're serious about having a stable world, we must make sure our islands have an opportunity to survive in this new world order."
Q: What will your government do now that the WTO has rejected European preferential quotas for Caribbean banana-producing nations such as Grenada, and announced that such quotas were against free-trade regulations?
A: We're quite past that stage. We've wasted enough time on that issue and we're now looking at the future. We believe we have an idea how we can market what we grow. In another 9-10 months we'll be exporting again, and we've also identified farmers who have shown the interest, commitment and skills to promote a quality fruit. That's not been the case in the past.