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Caribbean Export Development Agency launches first virtual expo event 

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The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) has announced the launch of its first virtual expo event named Absolutely Caribbean, unlocking the profit potential of the Caribbean.  Taking place on 17th and 18th November 2020, the event will bring together around 50 producers to showcase some of the best products that the Caribbean has to offer.   

We’re really excited to be organizing our first virtual expo. We have seen a growing trend for Caribbean food, beverages and natural products across Europe in the last few years which presents a real opportunity for us.  In the UK alone, Caribbean food is now estimated to be worth £97m1 with the number of Caribbean restaurants in the last year having grown by 144%2, comments Dr. Damie Sinanan, Manager of Competitiveness and Export Promotion from Caribbean Export.

Attendees will have the chance to book slots to meet with producers from a variety of categories including sauces and condiments; alcoholic drinks; natural, plant-based products and nutraceuticals.  There will also be a presentation by European consumer goods and retail experts to discuss the latest insights on these fast-moving consumer goods within the UK, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

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Caribbean Export has partnered with Shaun and Craig McAnuff of Original Flava for the event who have found great success with their Caribbean food and lifestyle platform and recently released their first cookbook of authentic Jamaican recipes.  With an increase in demand for Caribbean sauces and condiments across Europe, the duo will host a live session to show how versatile these products are, including a cooking demonstration.

The event is also supported by the West Indies Rum & Spirit Producer’s Association (WIRSPA), who represent distillers’ associations from across the ACP Caribbean3 and will be hosting a session on premium alcoholic drinks from the Caribbean in collaboration with the Rum and Spirits Academy of Europe

The online event is a joint venture between Caribbean Export, the European Commission and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and has been launched off the back of a successful three-day trade show and conference which took place in Germany last year.

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For more information about the event and to register, click here. 

[1] Grocery – IRI December 2017

[2] CGA August 2019

[3] ACP stands for ‘Africa, Caribbean and Pacific’. The ACP Caribbean states are the countries that are signatories of the Lomé Convention signed in 1975. This was superseded by the Cotonou Agreement in June 2000.

About Caribbean Export 

Caribbean Export is the only regional trade and investment promotion agency in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. Established in 1996 by an Inter-Governmental Agreement as the regional trade and investment promotion agency, it serves the 15 states of the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), namely: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The agency carries out numerous programme based activities designed to enhance the competitiveness of regional small and medium sized enterprises, promote trade and development amongst CARIFORUM states, promote stronger trade and investment between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic, CARIFORUM states and the French Caribbean Outermost Regions (FCORs) and the EU Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) in the Caribbean.

Caribbean

Building Caribbean food security via technology - A Caribbean Export perspective

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As COVID-19 continues to lay bare our vulnerabilities, our food insecurity has become more prominent than ever. Additionally, our position as one of the most food insecure regions on the planet is now being further accentuated by the ongoing disruptions in the global supply chains. This has in turn driven up shipping costs and with it an accompanying increase in the prices for everything we consume including the food on our table. It goes without saying that everyone will be affected, especially our most vulnerable citizens as our economies continue to reel from the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Deodat Maharaj.

According to the CARICOM Secretariat, the food import bill for the Caribbean Community stood at US$4.98 billion in 2018 which was more than double our US$2.08 billion food import tab of 2000. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has indicated that if current trends continue, similar exponential increases in our food import bill will take place in the coming years. The figures paint a worrisome picture of our current situation. As a Caribbean Community, by and large we import more than 60% of the food we consume, with some countries importing more than 80% of the food they consume. According to the FAO, only Belize, Guyana, and Haiti produce more than 50% of their food consumption.

Given the already high levels of debt, increasing unemployment and more of our people falling into poverty because of the coronavirus pandemic, continued heavy reliance on imported food is simply unsustainable.  This external dependence also heightens our vulnerability from a national security standpoint. COVID-19 by now has shown us that globally, countries put their citizens first as we have seen in the case of vaccines. Consequently, laying the foundation for food security must be of the highest priority for us as a Caribbean region.  

In this regard, it is good to see that Caribbean governments have set a target to reduce regional food imports in 2025 by 25% – 25 in 5 – and many countries have committed to undertake policy measures and incentives that support food production in our Region.  The obvious question is how this can be achieved when the conventional wisdom has been, that save for countries like Belize, Guyana and Suriname, we simply do not have land space to produce on the scale required to make us food secure.  However, other countries like Israel have turned conventional wisdom on its head by effectively embracing technology to build food security.  We must do the same.

For us in the Caribbean, the introduction of new technologies presents a major opportunity to accelerate food production, create jobs and attract investment. Embracing and accelerating the use of technology in agriculture or AgTech makes sense since it allows us to produce more with less, making food production more efficient.

In agriculture, innovations using technology, such as hydroponics and aquaponics have circumvented the need for extensive cultivable land, which is a major constraint in many of our small territories. The introduction of artificial intelligence, analytics, connected sensors, and other emerging technologies could further increase yields, improve the efficiency of water and other inputs, and build sustainability and resilience across crop cultivation, animal husbandry and agro-processing.

However, with few exceptions, we have been slow to embrace the widescale use of new technology in our food production systems. This is not a challenge solely faced by the Caribbean, as the World Economic Forum has noted that for its member territories, only $14 billion in investments in 1,000 food systems-focused start-ups was generated since 2010, while healthcare attracted $145bn in investment in 18,000 start-ups during the same time period. However, notwithstanding the challenges, in addition to Israel, countries such as the United Arab Emirates have been paving the way in leveraging technology in agriculture and getting the requisite investments to make it a success.

For us at the Caribbean Export Development Agency, there is a path forward. We have worked with the Caribbean Association of Investment Agencies (CAIPA) to identify AgTech as a priority sector to attract foreign direct investment as well as to stimulate regional capital flows.

Caribbean Export is fully committed to the goal of ‘25 in 5’ and we have begun our work in concert with our partners to define a mechanism to position the region´s AgTech opportunities to regional and international investors. During the Caribbean Week of Agriculture, we are convening the first-ever Caribbean AgTech Investment Summit (5-7 October 2021) headlined by the President of Guyana.  Here we will be presenting investment opportunities that are available in the region in the AgTech sector and helping to define a way forward to assist the region in improving its AgTech investment offering. More information on the event can be found here.

It is important to emphasise that to build food security, the private sector has an essential role and farming must be seen as a business that is attractive for our youth. This is precisely why we will continue supporting producers who are looking to the export market, taking advantage of opportunities such as those provided by the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. This is with specific reference to building the capacities of regional producers to access high value markets such in Europe. Additionally, we remain committed to using our grants programme financed by the European Union to help support our businesses across the Region access these markets. The next call for grants will be in mid-October and businesses including those in the agriculture sector are encouraged to apply. More information can be found here.

At Caribbean Export, we recognise that whilst these measures are important, an all hands-on-deck approach is required with the appropriate enabling environment in place. This means that national, regional and international partners must work in unison to help drive an agenda for Caribbean food security. We are committed to such a partnership which we believe will also deliver not only food security but also precious jobs and opportunity for our people.   -ends-

Deodat Maharaj is the executive director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency.

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Building a trade and investment partnership with Rising Africa

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Many Caribbean countries mark Emancipation in the month of August. Indeed, the CARICOM Community celebrates this historical milestone on 1st August annually. During this time, we reflect on the end of slavery which will forever remain a stain etched on the collective conscience of humanity. We use the remembrance of Emancipation to celebrate the deep and inextricable bonds we as Caribbean people have with Africa, writes Deodat Maharaj.

Thus far, these connections have largely remained in the historical, cultural and people spheres. This must change to also include translating our excellent ties into trade and investment relationships that will redound to the benefit of people here in our Region and in Africa. For those who follow developments in Africa, May 2019 marked the dawn of an exciting chapter in the continent’s continued ascent. It ushered in the start of the African Continental Free Trade Area with a cogent and compelling vision with Africa as one mega free trade area. Just in terms of countries participating, it is already the largest free trade area in the world given the number of states who are members.

Africa’s rise is also eloquently illustrated by the data. Whilst the entire world is reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and most countries and Regions like ours showing negative growth, the African Economic Outlook done by the African Development Bank noted that real GDP is expected to grow by 3.4 percent despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries such as Mozambique have been receiving record levels of foreign direct investment. Yet, whilst Asian countries led by China have been rushing to Africa, we have largely lagged behind in terms of pursuing an aggressive trade and investment relationship with Africa. The opportunities to partner with Africa and a market of an estimated 1.4 billion people are immense. As we seek to advance an agenda for a resilient Caribbean, it is not only important to shore up existing trade partnerships but to also look to new relationships on the trade and investment front.

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The world is changing and so must we. In terms of trade data, according to the International Trade Centre trade map, CARIFORUM countries (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) exported US$249.2 million worth of goods to Africa in 2018 which grew to US$601.4 million in 2019. Though this is a step in the right direction it is still a fraction of what can be realised once we make a concerted push to Africa. The obvious question is then, how we go about ramping up our commercial relationship with Africa. Firstly, we need to shift from political diplomacy to one that includes a commercial focus giving Africa the priority it deserves. Some progress has been made with the establishment of missions in several African capitals by Caribbean countries.

We are also seeing results. Just last month, I participated in the signing ceremony here in Barbados where Caribbean companies Global Integrated Fintech Solutions (GIFTS) and IPayAnywhere (Global) signed an MOU with Nigerian giant TelNet relating to the provision of a range of payment services. What was different about this relationship is that it ushered in a partnership focused on the new economy and not the classic relationship in the trade of commodities. The Barbados High Commission in Ghana played an instrumental role in bringing this to reality hence the emphasis on strong commercial representation. Similarly, the joint mission of CARICOM countries established in Nairobi, Kenya must pursue the same objective with a focus on East and Southern Africa. Secondly, as we build a relationship with Africa and seek to also attract tourists from the continent, we must also deepen our relationship in the services sector other than tourism. We already have Caribbean expertise serving in Africa in places like Mozambique supporting the development of their energy sector.

However, this is individual and ad hoc. We need to be more systematic and look to areas such as tourism where we have demonstrated expertise and find ways of marketing our knowledge in such areas to countries where this assistance is required. Thirdly, as the youngest continent on the planet with approximately 60 percent of the population under the age of 25 and with a growing middle class, there is immense potential for our creative sector. For example, Caribbean music remains popular in Africa, but we need to be more proactive in identifying the market opportunities and support our artistes in accessing them through digital and other platforms building on initial efforts such as the successful collaboration between Caribbean Soca artistes like Machel Montano from Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria’s Timaya. By focusing our creative sector on Africa’s vibrant young people, we will be building a relationship for years to come.

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Finally, it is important to underline that building this relationship with Africa and its private sector is not only the remit of the governments across the Region. Business has an important role to play in reaching out to Africa as has been done by institutions such as Republic Bank which has established operations in Ghana. Private sector organisations such as the chambers of commerce and manufacturers association need to also establish relationships with their counterparts on the continent.

We at the Caribbean Export Development Agency recognise the importance of helping to build this bridge. This is precisely the reason why the identification of new trading relationships is an important part of our Strategic Plan for the period 2021 – 2024. We have already started initial outreach to institutions such as the East Africa Chamber of Commerce. As a Caribbean person who has lived, worked and travelled across Africa, I have seen first-hand the seismic shifts taking place on the continent. It is time we also make this pivot to Africa investing the requisite time, effort and energy. In a rapidly changing world, bolstering our relationship with Africa is no longer an option but should be a key element of our strategy to help build Caribbean resilience.

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Supporting micro, small and medium enterprises, the backbone of Caribbean economies

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The United Nations commemorated Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) day on 27th June. This day dedicated to MSMEs is to recognise their contribution to the global economy.  There is indeed a clear reason for doing so. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reports that MSMEs account for more than 90% of all businesses and around 70% of jobs globally, writes Deodat Maharaj. 

Right here in the Caribbean, MSMEs form the backbone of many of our economies generating precious jobs and opportunities for our people. According to the Caribbean Development Bank, MSMEs represent between 70-85% of Caribbean businesses and contribute between 60-70% of Gross Domestic Product. Critically, they account for an estimated 50% of total employment. Importantly, 40% of Caribbean businesses are owned by women. The success of these enterprises reflects the ingenuity, industry, and innovative spirit of our entrepreneurs. Based on the data, to build a resilient Caribbean under normal circumstances where business must be a central partner, we would need to ramp up support to the entrepreneurs in micro, small and medium scale business enterprises.
 
However, given the fact that we are living in unprecedented times with small and vulnerable Caribbean countries reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, the emphasis must be on fast-tracking recovery and building resilience. To be successful, the private sector has a major part to play. Consequently, given the role of MSMEs in creating opportunity and jobs, it is logical that MSMEs must get priority attention. Policy measures excluding them or providing sub-optimal support will be counterproductive and only ensure a prolonged recovery phase or even worse, job loss and suboptimal growth. 

MSMEs require a range of support including finance on which I have previously written. However, it is not only about providing financial support and creating an enabling environment for business to flourish. There are other crucial areas where support is required to give our MSMEs the maximum chance of success. 

First and foremost, is the area of technology. COVID-19 has demonstrated quite clearly the imperative of embracing new ways of working and doing business. Support must be extended to our MSMEs to help them embrace this new era. We at the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) have already scaled up our support in this area and have seen huge interest on the part of businesses across the Region. For example, at our last webinar on e-commerce “Build your e-Commerce Store from Scratch” in February 2021, we had over 400 participants from across the Caribbean. This shows the eagerness of our firms to take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology to help grow their businesses.

Technology also has a democratising effect helping firms regardless of size with an opportunity to grow their businesses and reach new customers at low cost. In this COVID-19 era, examples abound. Here in Barbados, small scale farmers have taken to the internet to sell their products. In Trinidad and Tobago, there is a Facebook group “Trini Farmers” with an estimated membership of 49,500 members which serves as a peer group where members support each other. These are two good examples where entrepreneurs have taken the initiative. At the same time, we need to be actively supporting those who need assistance.

In terms of leveraging technology to grow businesses, government has an important role to play in creating the right policy environment, providing incentives, and delivering concrete support to MSMEs. Simultaneously, it is not only about state assistance, but the larger corporate sector including financial institutions, have an important part to play as mentors and business partners for MSMEs. It is in everyone's interest for micro, small and medium scale enterprises to succeed.

Secondly, the cost of energy here in our Region is amongst the highest on the planet. This is not only a disincentive to foreign direct investors but also a constraint to our businesses right here in our Caribbean. High energy costs simply drive up the cost of production making it difficult for us to compete with imports at the national level and to export our products to regional and international markets. To address this matter, the push to renewables is important both at the national and regional levels. We at Caribbean Export are working closely with MSMEs across the Region to help them enhance energy efficiency and as a result make them more competitive. However, we need to do this on a scale that can have a transformational impact. The reality is that we are not there yet. Allocating the requisite resources to reduce energy costs with the twin advantage of taking climate action, must be a high priority at the national level.

Finally, our MSMEs need to focus on niche markets with premium products and commensurate prices to reflect their quality. We at the Caribbean Export have been helping regional businesses to penetrate the European market and take advantage of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. However, we also realise much more must be done. It is precisely for this reason that we have partnered with the International Trade Centre to establish a hub for trade in sustainable products. 

This Hub will help bolster the competitiveness of MSMEs by supporting the implementation of green business practices. There is already a well-established and growing market for products that meet sustainability criteria, and we are keen to help Caribbean businesses take advantage of this opportunity. Going forward, it is important to partner with business support organisations not only in Europe but also in other premium markets to get our products on the shelves to attract the expanding customer base for products that meet “sustainability “criteria. 

In summary, fast-tracking recovery and building resilience require a major programme of support and focus on our micro, small and medium sized businesses. They are key to creating much needed jobs and opportunity for our people. To achieve success, a broad-based partnership including with the larger regional business enterprises is required. The Caribbean Export Development Agency is committed to this agenda. We will continue to work with all to provide this much needed support and create options and opportunities for our people, as we seek to build a truly resilient Caribbean.

Deodat Maharaj is the executive director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency.

About Caribbean Export

Caribbean Export is the only regional trade and investment promotion agency in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. Established in 1996 by an Inter-Governmental Agreement as the regional trade and investment promotion agency, it serves the 15 states of the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), namely: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The agency carries out numerous programme based activities designed to enhance the competitiveness of regional small and medium sized enterprises, promote trade and development amongst CARIFORUM states, promote stronger trade and investment between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic, CARIFORUM states and the French Caribbean Outermost Regions (FCORs) and the EU Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) in the Caribbean.

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