Three urgent goals for sustainable growth, opportunity and jobs in 2022 and beyond

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As we enter the festive season and end 2021 under the long shadow of the pandemic and escalating climate crisis, the Caribbean and its people have demonstrated commendable resilience.

Looking ahead, this resilient spirit will be required more than ever if we are to create growth, generate precious jobs, and provide opportunities for our people. This is especially needed considering the pandemic and existential threat we face from climate change are not going away. The issue to confront is whether we continue with the same policy prescriptions and approaches. Quite frankly, the business has not served us well and will not work in an equally or even more challenging 2022.

To build the resilient Caribbean, businesses must play a central and vital leadership role in driving economic recovery and creating climate-friendly growth. In essence, a strong and vibrant private sector is core to help manage and solve the challenges we face, which will, in turn, create opportunities for our people.

From my standpoint, I am aware that we cannot do everything given the already heavy burden carried by administrations across ouRegionon. However, doing more of the same or nothing are not viable options. Therefore, as a Region, we must build on the core asset of our capable and resilient people so clearly demonstrated in these testing times to realize three practical goals that will help fast-track recovery and lay the basis for the resilient Caribbean.

1. Regional Capital Market

Caribbean countries are too small to navigate an increasingly complex and challenging global landscape. Consequently, regional integration cannot be an option for small open economies as we have in Euregion to survive in a worldwide architecture where the giants determine the game’s rules. There is indeed strength in numbers from both geopolitical and economic perspectives. I am also conscious of the need and scale to attract foreign direct investment at a level that can create jobs and opportunities. Pooling our countries as one investment destination in AgTech or renewables can help achieve the required scale. Simultaneously, we need to facilitate the flow of capital from within thRegionon so that Caribbean people can have a stake in an enterprise regardless of location.

In a 2020 survey of around 450 enterprises carried out by the Caribbean Export Development Agency and Caribbean Development Bank, businesses across thRegionon cited lack of access to finance as their biggest constraint. Yet still, at the end of 2021, we do not have a regional capital market allowing the free flow of capital across the Caribbean that can give the average citizen a stake in an enterprise in another jurisdiction. Whereas I recognize that foreign direct investment is vital to attract both technology and capital, there is an equally critical role for finance that is already within thRegionon. Consequently, we need to unlock money already available in the Caribbean. Advancing a Regional Capital Market in the coming year will have a transformational impact on unleashing special indigenous financing for the business.

2. Improve the ease of doing business in the Caribbean

Quite simply, a business cannot help drive recovery and play a leadership role in creating jobs and opportunities in the current business environment. It isn’t easy to do business in the Caribbean. Apart from Jamaica and St Lucia, thRegionon is in the bottom half of the 200 countries globally assessed by the World Bank in its 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report. We need to look at areas to get quick wins, such as registering a business. In Singapore, it takes one day. In Mauritius, it is usually not more than one week. Except for Jamaica, Caribbean jurisdictions lag behind the rest of the world, taking weeks or even months to register and start a business. A simple first step is pulling out all the stops to make it easier for national, regional, and international enterprises to register and start a business in ouRegionon.

3. Expand non-tourism related services as the next frontier for Caribbean business

Our economies have been historically connected with the production of commodities. As we sought to move away from traditional products such as sugar and rice, tourism became the mainstay of much of the Caribbean. As subsequent natural disasters such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and COVID-19 have demonstrated, this leaves us vulnerable whenever there is a significant shock to the global economy. Therefore, the time is now to capitalize on our rich human capital and transition to non-tourism-related services.

For example, there is enormous potential to grow or break into markets like business process outsourcing and information and communication technology, which saw a 6 percent increase in exports in the pandemic according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), valued globally at USD 676 billion in 2020. Creative industries also hold great promise to market the talent of our people in areas such as music and the business of carnival. We at the Caribbean Export Development Agency have identified this as a priority over the next three years. The services sector must receive the support it needs in policy, resources, and partnerships to have a lasting impact.

To effect transformation requires vision backed by action. Given the multiplicity of constraints we face, building the resilient Caribbean and creating jobs and opportunities for our people cannot be achieved overnight. At the same time, we need to treat areas with the highest priority, hence my three wishes for 2022.

DEODAT MAHARAJ is the Executive Director of the Caribbean Export Development

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