Trade ministers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have unanimously endorsed a proposal to develop a ‘Made in CARICOM’ promotional initiative which will capitalise on one of the opportunities presented by the pandemic.
The endorsement came at a Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on the 26 and 27 November 2020, under the Chairmanship of the Hon. Oneidge Walrond, Guyana’s Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce.
“The Meeting was unanimous in its endorsement of a proposal that was put on the table to develop a ‘Made in CARICOM’ initiative to drive local production, local goods, building that market, drilling up what we are doing here,” Mr. Joseph Cox, CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration said. The Made in CARICOM promotional campaign would have the effect of driving support to Regionally produced items at the national level.
He explained that there were changes in consumer tastes and spending as a result of the disruptions in trade caused by the pandemic. This has created new markets and new dynamics, and there was considerable opportunity for “regional suppliers to step up and reorient their business models and rise to the challenges and the opportunities that emanate from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
During their two-day meeting, the Ministers discussed macro-economic responses to the pandemic such as tax reform, the re-introduction of growth resilience, countering supply chain disruptions and the restoration of fiscal discipline.
With the shift of businesses online in the COVID-19 environment, Mr. Cox said there was rich discourse on digital transformation since it was the new frontier for the Region and its development. The discussions ranged from joint procurement of ICT equipment to age limits on equipment; VAT holidays; and addressing the issues associated with bandwidth. He said some of the proposals warranted further discussions at the national level.
The Minister also focused on the Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA) which formally came into force in August 2020 to liberalise the regional air transport sector.
They spent some time on matters relating to agriculture, including the 25 in 5 Strategy which aims to reduce food imports by 25 per cent in five years and the strategic opportunities that will emerge including land use mapping, financing options for the sector and cyber extension services.
“As part of the new dynamic that will emerge from this COVID era where there is an increased reliance on technology… it presents the opportunity to use platforms to interact with the agricultural community through extension services, and where it is not possible for persons to literally visit within the community you have that option of having an electronic platform…,” Mr. Cox said.
“What came out of COTED was that we looked at the strategic pivoting of the Region. And what it will manifest itself in is change in financial inclusion; change in terms of digital transformation; change in terms of approach to the productive sectors. How do we nuance it; how do we drive employment; how do we reduce levels of under-employment; how do we deal with engagement of our markets. What are the emerging opportunities that will come out of it? And emerging opportunities are not just about what came out of COVID – the emerging opportunities are about what came out of the CET suspensions that are being granted and therefore the obvious mechanisms and opportunities that arise from that. What are some of the trade arrangements that wee engage in with third countries… what are their functional opportunities,” the Assistant Secretary-General said.
He added that he was happy with the outcomes of the meeting because what it heralded was a new normal and the transforming of the regional ecosystem to meet that new normal.
Private Sector engagement
And as the Community continues to forge ahead with the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation Inc. (CPSO). The MOU outlines areas of cooperation towards the full implementation of the CSME, acknowledging that the private sector was well positioned to positively contribute to the CSME regimes of free movement of goods, services, labour and capital.
The CPSO is the latest Associate Institution of CARICOM, having been so designated on 29 October 2020. Its status is recognition of the need for more structured engagement between the Community and the Private Sector and Labour to achieve economic development and full realisation of regional integration.
The Organisation attended and actively participated in the 51st COTED Meeting. ASG Cox said the COTED formally welcomed the CPSO with the confidence that its contributions and those of other sector specific organisations that participate in COTED will help to move the Council’s agenda forward.