A lane has opened up for Caribbean businesses to properly establish themselves in the wake of the COVID-19 and Grenadian Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell hopes more companies take this chance.
The Grenadian Prime Minister was full of praise for T&T businesses that have began filling the gaps created by the pandemic, but felt more regional brands need to follow their lead.
He made this call at the Caribbean Business Forum last Wednesday, February 17.
The forum was also attended by Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon.
Dr Mitchell pointed to the reduced international trade as a result of the pandemic with international travel, and transshipment as well as international trade severely reduced in an attempt to curb the virus’ spread.
He said with the traditional partners limited in their influence in the Caribbean, the onus fell on regional entities to step up as a few T&T brands have so far.
“We know that in the spaces created by the global economic pause we can and must rapidly create a more dynamic, self-reliant Caribbean market place,” said Mitchell in his speech at the event, “Trinidadian companies already enjoy a place of prominence and are playing a vital role in this: Massy, Blue Waters, Republic Bank are some of the innovators who are already collaborating with local producers and businesses, successfully creating new partnerships.”
Republic Bank’s interaction with various states was singled out as a positive development within the framework imposed by the pandemic.
“Trinidadian domiciled banks like Republic Bank, leveraging their footprint in the OECS to facilitate this trading, taking non-traditional approaches to financing MSMEs and innovation startups.
“Active exchanges among our youth in these opportunities so that they begin to shape a future that is seamless in its collaboration and limitless in its aspirations,” he said.
Dr Mitchell recognised that T&T had long enjoyed a good trade relationship with the Eastern Caribbean, with their manufacturing industry bolstered by its energy boosted economy, the impact has not been one sided.
“There has been a constant interchange of people, goods and services between T&T and the Eastern Caribbean. Trade in agricultural products from Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines in particular to Trinidad has enabled many to provide for their families. From the other end of the trade equation, Trinidadian businesses have established an active presence in the Eastern Caribbean in the services sector, in retail business, and increasingly in financial and insurance services,” he said.
While he acknowledges that T&T’s energy sector gave the manufacturing sector a boost with capital to expanded, he lamented that too few Caribbean states have followed their lead in establishing themselves in the region.
“T&T has also leveraged its energy advantage in the manufacturing sector, emerging as a major producer on the regional front with the Caribbean as a primary market for its beverages, processed food and other commodities.
“In fact, T&T has long been recognised as a key supplier of goods and services to the rest of the region, consistently enjoying a hugely advantageous trade position in relation to the OECS countries,” he said.
In this climate, he explained that even smaller businesses had an opportunity to carve out their space in the market where spots had opened.
“Trade is vitally important to our survival. And regional integration as an enabler of reciprocity in relations and the aggregation of opportunity in niche Caricom and hemispheric spaces, is essential for our sustainability,” Mitchell added as he pointed to the state to the limited level of trade which occurred within the Caribbean before the pandemic took its toll on the international and regional markets.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, by whatever statistic you measured it, intra-regional trade was too skewed to suggest that we were on a trajectory toward regional economic resilience.
“We have struggled as a region to maintain whatever niche or favourable extra-regional export opportunities to which we have access,” he said,.
“Intra-regional trade however,has not been optimised. We seem to prefer patronising other people’s business in the global village instead of strengthening and consolidating the wealth of our islands,” Dr Mitchell said as he hoped the experience of the past year would open to region’s eyes to the opportunity to expand trade markets within Caricom.
This he believes should be cemented during this new normal period while there is limited international trade as opposed to waiting for the old regime to take ahold of the region again.
“Why do we see nothing wrong with importing food and goods from all around the globe, but express objection and erect barriers to buying from our own?
“Sisters and brothers, something is fundamentally wrong with that approach,” he said as he made the call for the Caribbean to take the lessons from the downturn in international trade caused by the pandemic.
“These challenges carry the seeds of great opportunity and we are particularly pleased with this chance to exchange views and brainstorm on concrete measures and initiatives that we can undertake together to help us all be more resilient, less dependent on externalities and shape a new model of collective prosperity,” he said, calling on Caribbean businesses and innovators to also take charge of the opportunity presented during this period.
“Caribbean investors expanding to take advantage of the opportunities must do so with a developmental and not an extractive mindset. The ultimate contribution of investment to development is when it has the vision to see the sustainable growth prospects and invests in them while still reaping the benefits of the return on initial investment.
“This is the concept of partnership that we need to cultivate and incentivise. The OECS authority is keen to see an explosion of trade between the OECS and the wider region, starting with T&T.”
Dr Mitchell also was very keen on the potential impact of the expansion of the Trinidad and Tobago beyond the country’s inter island sea bridge as he saw it as another potential avenue for regional trade to flourish.
The establishment of an Eastern Caribbean Ferry service has been suggested from as far back as 2009, but to date it has yet to come to fruition.