Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-based manufacturers have been urged to scale up their production capacity, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, or risk losing important market share to outsiders.
The caution has come from Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Sandra Husbands, as she addressed the signing ceremony Wednesday for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to create the CARICOM Association of Manufacturers.
The virtual event was attended by officials from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Guyana, Jamaica and Dominica which are all signatories to the MOU. Barbados will be the grouping’s first chair.
“Over the last few months, this region, like others, has experienced shortages of commodities, reduction in shipping options, and disruption of our value chains. Production security is key if we are to increase regional trade. We have to make a concerted effort in this regard, as the trade performance leaves much to be desired. This region must scale up production and it must scale up manufacturing,” Husbands said.
“This is the key to making better use of the bilateral treaties . . . that the countries have signed. And while we have engaged in treaties that opened our markets to others, because we do not have the scale of production we have not benefited from the treaties. However, others who have signed the treaties with us have been able to benefit from the trade within our region.”
According to the junior Foreign Trade Minister, “scale of production is going to help us to build prosperity in the region, to build production security, to build resilience of the domestic enterprise in its own market, so that it is not knocked out by more competitive products coming from extra-regional sources.”
Against that background, Husbands said regional governments were committed to providing an enabling environment for manufacturers to thrive, but they needed to increase their capacity to respond to the needs of consumers in the region.
She stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had created a “new normal” and cited the second and third waves of the virus being recorded in some countries.
“One thing is certain: Things will never be the same, and this can be taken from a positive or negative perspective. I prefer to be optimistic and declare that we must build on the positive advancements made and the opportunities that have arisen in light of the crisis,” Husbands said.
“Changes have to take place and I am sure that many of us would be proud if we saw a greater level of regional products which meet the standards in our various markets. This is my challenge to you. This is the challenge of the citizens of the region to you. You can make this happen.”
She reminded representatives of regional manufacturing groups that ten Asian and five Asia Pacific countries had come together to sign the world’s largest trade deal, in terms of gross domestic product.
“What the region must do is to ensure that we are not left behind. Data tells us that 40 to 60 per cent of trade by major trading firms across the world happen within their own free trade areas and trade agreements. As a region, we have only been able to command 13 per cent last year,” Minister Husbands noted.