In pursuit of a “gradual reduction and elimination of obstacles to trade and investment in the greater Caribbean,” the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) will introduce UNCTAD’s e-regulations programme to its 28 member countries, said ACS secretary general Alfonso Munera. Munera said this in an interview on July 11, at the ACS office on Sweet Briar Road, St Clair. UNCTAD stands for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Munera said UNCTAD’s Nelson Perez made a presentation to ACS member countries at the association’s Port-of-Spain head office during the annual meeting of the ACS trade committee on July 11 to 12. In its plan of action for the coming year, the ACS trade committee said it will “promote initiatives aimed at reducing obstacles to trade in the region” by introducing the e-regulations programme. In countries where it has been implemented, the programme has led to “expedited visas, simplification of import procedures, and the establishment of an electronic consultation system for accessing information and import requirements.”
In her report to the committee, ACS trade director Ariadna Perez said, “Among the most fundamental obstacles to trade experienced by economic entities of member states is the lack of knowledge regarding regulations and processes to achieve their commercial purposes. The access or non-access to information determines their effective participation in the trade environment. “In the long run, everything hinges on the level of transparency offered by each country to facilitate and/or promote economic activities linked to international trade. The lack of, or limited information, then makes simple activities sluggish, and therefore costly, increasing transaction costs for those who conduct the transactions, for the end consumers, and for the economy in general.” E-regulations are very important, Perez said. “You can put all your steps and all the requirements that need to be met for doing business in each country. So it will promote the transparency and give the information to people outside. If you are from China or Japan, you can go to the Internet to see what it is you have to do in order to come to (or) open a business, for example, in Guatemala.” She said only six ACS countries have this facility promoted by UNCTAD and “what will be great is if countries from Caricom are a part of this.”
Greater business forum
Also in its action plan, the ACS trade committee intends to “promote trade relations in the region, through forums in which the business community could explore new opportunities for business.” This is why, Munera said, the ACS plans to revive its annual business forum. The last business forum was held in 2010 in Cartagena, Colombia. The Business Forum of the Greater Caribbean, as it was known, brings together the private and public sectors of the region, at a forum mixing trade facilitation and direct business development. “The first business forum was held in 2000,” Perez said, “and it was a mandate of the heads of state, and this business forum is very important because it was a tool for the small and medium enterprises. Because if you have an entrepreneur from Trinidad, and you bring here a forum with other people, from other countries—Latin America or any other country from Caricom—they can have matchmaking.” Although a member country has not yet offered to host the business forum, the secretary general was confident the event will take place in the second half of 2013. “We are going to make a major effort for there to be real representation of the whole Caribbean at this forum, not only of the big countries,” he said.
The ACS also intends to “support the growth and potential of micro and small enterprises in the greater Caribbean, improve knowledge of their functioning in different settings, and the constraints they face,” Perez said in her report. The trade director said the ACS “conducted preliminary research,” the results of which were presented at the 2011 meeting of the trade committee. She said the research made a case for helping women in the region because of “the impact of the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector on women in society, especially as it relates to access to finance, and their overall contribution to economic development in the region.” “As a secretary general, I want to propose a macro project dealing with women in small business, talking about micro credits, talking about capacitation, talking about structuring the organisations, and also thinking about the macro project in which we can promote small businesses throughout the region dealing with women in different activities: tourism, service in general, prevention of disasters, small industries. It is a very ambitious idea and we have started working and we are going to put a lot of effort to do that,” Munera said. “Gender is not only a fight to get empowered or not, it is also an economic problem for the countries because some 35-40 per cent of small and medium enterprises are run by women, who are very often the heads of households and have to provide for their families,” Perez said.
“With respect to tourism, which is the main activity of probably 80 per cent of Caribbean countries, women have a very important presence in terms of small business. “For example, they are the ones dealing with handicraft and selling small souvenirs, and I think if we are able to improve the conditions of women doing small business, it will have a very important social impact because at the end of the day, we are talking about fighting poverty and we are talking about raising the condition of women,” Munera said.
Perez said according to the ACS research, most women-owned businesses in the Caribbean are either micro or small and very rarely medium-sized because women’s focus is on the education of their children and on the health of their families.
“A few women go beyond that, but the majority are small. We are already getting the support of one of the important partners,” Munera said. “I have already spoken with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia. Also, I have spoken to the Prime Minister of Haiti about this idea, and we are now at the point of getting, from Colombia, the support to pay an expert who is going to help us to frame the project in a way in which we can present it. “Also, we are talking with some international organisations. I don’t want to mention which ones specifically because we are still in the informal talk, but we are sure we are going to get support for having this project developed. “My feeling is that we are working in such a way that by the end of the year, or by the beginning of next year, we will have the project ready, and we have two or three different countries supporting the presentation of this project.” Munera and Perez spoke to the Business Guardian during a break at the meeting. The two-day meeting was chaired by Haiti’s Minister of Trade Wilson Laleau. UNCTAD, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the Latin American Economic System, the Central American Integration System, Caricom and the International Trade Centre were represented at the meeting.