The decimation of Caribbean tourism by the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for a more diversified and robust services trade in Barbados and the rest of the region, Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Trade Sandra Husbands has said.
But the move to diversification will require new laws and policies and greater collaboration between governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations, she suggested.
Pointing to the impact on regional tourism and international business and government revenues, Husbands said this has highlighted the need to diversify the Caribbean’s services sector urgently.
Husbands said: “It is important to note that I am not saying that we have to completely neglect tourism or the financial services sector. I am, however, a firm believer that there is more untapped potential for the services sector to generate more economic growth for our region’s economies.
“This diversification into other service areas will decrease the Caribbean’s dependence on financial and tourism-related services for economic growth. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated that the days of relying on just one sector for growth are going or they have already gone. We in the region must therefore come together and find the additional areas of economic growth through services.”
Renewable energy, information technology, education, culture and health and wellness services should be pursued aggressively, she declared.
The foreign trade minister continued: “The decimation of the tourism and tourism-related services sector highlighted the need for a more resilient and robust services sector in the Caribbean. Services innovation then is going to be crucial in creating resilient, robust and competitive services in the region. This services innovation can be achieved through increasing the use of ICT [information and communication technology] services to be able to reach a global audience,” said Husbands.
But declaring that it will require going beyond the use of ICT, Husbands said a more resilient services sector will need “coherent and supportive policies and regulations such as trade policies to reach foreign markets and benefits from foreign inputs”.
She said it would also require “industrial policies to address structural gaps and support diversification and upgrade strategies, and the use of a holistic government approach and coordination with civil society and the private sector”.
Husbands said: “The regional governments cannot diversify the services sector alone. The regional governments and the private sector must work together to build out other services sectors to support the Caribbean economy when the activity in the tourism sector is so minuscule. We must include the Caribbean consumer in our initiatives as well to help broaden and educate their taste so they support our regional goods and services.”
The minister was addressing the Services Go Global (SGG) certificate ceremony on Tuesday, where more than 100 services industry operators were awarded for completing the training programme.
The SSG training programme, which is facilitated by the Caribbean Export Development Agency under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) regional private sector development programme, is designed to optimise the export potential of the services sector operators in CARIFORUM.
With a focus on four main areas – understanding trade, market research, marketing strategy and market entry options – the service providers were trained on how to capitalize on opportunities under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), CARICOM Single Market and third-party trade agreements.
Some 130 participants from more than 80 firms in a range of industries across the region took part in the export readiness SGG training programme this year. (MM)