By Deidre Brathwaite
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Before it had even begun, it was clear the inaugural Caribbean Investment Forum was a resounding success given the overwhelming in-person attendance of 500 plus delegates from over 35 countries.
This no doubt reflects the urgency felt by business people, investors, eager entrepreneurs, government officials across the region, and even diplomats and ordinary citizens to see the Caribbean confront and triumph over the threats to their survival and create a bright new future for its people.
Speaking at the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday, Executive Director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export), Deodat Maharaj, said: “The key is for us to focus on the main drivers that can truly advance Caribbean transformation” and so the Forum has focused on:
- Green economy transition
- Digitalisation technology and innovation
- Agriculture; and
- Transport and logistics.
The investment, job creation and business opportunities relating to these sectors are huge.
CARICOM Secretariat Secretary-General, Dr Carla Barnett, noted that CARICOM heads have set a target of 47 percent electricity generation from renewables by 2027 and have committed to reducing the region’s food import bill by 25 percent by 2025.
“Over the period 2018-2020, the CARICOM food import bill was US$13.76 billion or approximately 5 percent of GDP,” she said.
Digital technologies could radically transform and create opportunities in agriculture, manufacturing and services; accelerate growth for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and reshape energy systems, she also noted.
“I believe that if we make progress in these sectors, we will achieve success. However, to build a truly resilient Caribbean, business must be an essential partner, playing not a peripheral or tangential role but a central role,” Maharaj emphasized.
Investment, therefore, matters more than ever, Barnett said, particularly given the fall in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), from a peak of US$6.65 billion in 2008 to US$3.9 billion in 2019 to US$2.4 billion with the onset of the pandemic.
EU ambassador Peter Cavendish believes the Caribbean’s attraction to investors include its access to the European market, having the world’s number one cocoa genome and cocoa research centre, and its leading institutes and organisations such as the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute. He stressed that under the Economic Partnership Agreements with Caribbean nations, the EU can offer considerable technical expertise and advice as well as financial resources to addressing the Caribbean’s investment and transformation needs.
However, H.E. Wamkele Mene, secretary-general, African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA), believes the Caribbean and the African continent have much to gain by co-operating with each other in trade and investment. He sees compelling and urgent reasons for the two regions to forge strong commercial ties, building on the primarily historical and emotional bonds that have connected them thus far.
Delivering the keynote address entitled: “New Markets, New Investments for New Times”, Mene referenced the two recent seismic events that exposed a common vulnerability of the two regions: the Covid-19 pandemic that “saw our two regions at the back of the queue for much-needed vaccines” and the Russia-Ukraine conflict that disrupted supply chains and has caused both food insecurity and food inflation. These two events indicate that Africa and the Caribbean region must rely more on each other and less on their traditional markets, he said.
“As we see these changes in the economic paradigms of the world, we must diversify our markets for exports and investments. That’s why this Forum is so very important,” Mene said. Noting that Caribbean exports to the African continent was negligible at 4.4 percent of total exports, he pointed to a recent study by the International Trade Centre which saw significant potential for this to grow to up to US$1 billion over the next five years in areas ranging from agro-processing, health care, tourism and the automobile sector.
The study also saw opportunity for Africa to boost its annual merchandise exports to the Caribbean by 54 percentor US$170 million annually by the year 2026 covering over 200 tariff lines. “The Continent of Africa offers an opportunity for the Caribbean as a new partner, an opportunity to diversify your export markets, to create export jobs in the Caribbean and be globally competitive,” Mene said. “The Caribbean region can also expand exports of goods to Africa by US$80 million or 29 percent” and this would be even more if services and transport are added, he said.
The African Continental Free Trade Area represents a market of 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion. According to a McKensie & Co study, this GDP is forecast to grow to almost US$7 trillion by 2055.
In her remarks, Trinidad and Tobago’s Trade & Industry minister, senator Paula Gopee-Scoon said: “We trust that this Forum will act as a catalyst to boost our entire region’s (FDI) flows and this is a major reason why we are here – to showcase our progress and bankable investment opportunities.”
With a packed and interesting programme, she particularly highlighted the Transport and Logistics Roundtable on Day 3, saying it promised “to be an exciting one, with regional participants, including from key Port Authorities, discussing the advantages of the Caribbean’s location and mutually beneficial avenues for investments in areas such as port infrastructure and services and strengthened logistics, among others.”
The Caribbean Investment Forum is a four-day, high-level business-focused event designed to present and explore these investment opportunities across the region. The regional forum is organized by the Caribbean Export Development Agency in collaboration with the government of Trinidad and Tobago, CARICOM, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies and with the support of the European Union.
The Forum is taking place from the 8 -11 of November 2022 at the Hyatt Regency in Trinidad and Tobago and connects key regional decision-makers, innovators, and entrepreneurs with the world’s most influential investors.
Under the theme ‘Building A SMARTer, GREENer, Caribbean’, stakeholders will learn and explore some of the most attractive investment opportunities in technology, agriculture, renewable energy, and innovation; and hopefully, advance projects that will improve the lives of over 30 million Caribbean people in the 23 Countries across the region.
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