by Marlon Madden
While there has been some progress, local and regional firms are still missing out on opportunities under the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
So says newly appointed Executive Director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency Deodat Maharaj, who told Today’s BUSINESS he was also concerned that a lack of affordable regional transportation was hindering trade between Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states.
“We need to have transportation, and you need to have transportation that is not prohibitively expensive so that people can move freely and businesses can thrive and flourish,” said Maharaj.
“The lower the cost of transportation the easier it is for goods to flow across the region and the more affordable for us to buy a product within the region than from China or another part of the world. Transportation has to be an integral part of our strategy as a region going forward,” he said.
In relation to the EPA, which was put in place in October 2008 to make it easier for the people of the 15-member CARIFORUM bloc and the EU member states to invest in and trade goods and services with each other, Maharaj said there were opportunities that have not yet been explored.
However, similar to a recent EU-backed study, he said a lack of awareness about the EPA among the private sector was one of the major stumbling blocks.
“I think much more is required and we need to tap into it much more because there are a lot of opportunities.
“So we have to work with firms and national administrations to sensitise and create greater awareness because there is much more that we can benefit from the EPA with the EU, whether we talk about services or goods, also to get investors from Europe to the Caribbean,” said Maharaj.
“So while there is some progress we have to translate that into business opportunities for our people so we could help create jobs and growth and prosperity,” he said, as he pledged ramped-up efforts by the Caribbean Export to provide crucial information to firms.
Maharaj, who took up his position at the start of February this year, said while the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed down some aspects of trade, the Caribbean Export continued to match businesses in CARICOM with importers and distributors across the region and in Europe by use of technology.
Maharaj said Caribbean Export has maintained its business-to-business arrangement and trade fairs as it continued to encourage regional businesses to take advantage of the EPA.
“Businesspeople have to talk to businesspeople and that is what we are going to focus on – fostering and creating a space
Adding that some Caribbean products can easily attract top dollar in some markets, he said apart from growing exports in existing markets and tapping into new ones, “we have to focus on niche products in niche markets as well”.
“We can’t do mass production like China, but our products will be accepted . . . There are examples that we can look to that shows that with the correct thinking, the correct targeting, correct marketing and the partnership building, you can penetrate markets and these are high-end markets meaning that people will pay top dollar for quality products,” he explained.