The OECS region is moving quickly to diversify its economy, by moving away from its dependence on primary agriculture and traditional tourism (i.e. sand, sea and sun). Like most other Caribbean islands, the sub-region has become tourism dependent, occasioning periods of crisis whenever the global economy suffers from a recession or is impacted by natural disasters – especially storms and hurricanes.
In recent times, governments from the region have been focusing on new areas of growth particularly those where we have a comparative advantage. Among the sectors driving this growth are the creative industries, ICT and in new areas of value-added to the agriculture sector.
This region is well-endowed with creative talent, a high level of educational achievement and success in growing crops and livestock to feed the local population and for export. The emerging sectors therefore are linked to efforts that are utilising these attributes and vital assets to create world-class products and services for local consumption and export.
The OECS Commission has been in the vanguard of efforts to nurture and provide support for the emergence and growth of these new sectors. For more than 25 years, the Commission, through its private sector development programme, has been supported mainly through various financial instruments by the European Development Fund and the governments of the OECS, the latest of which is the 10th EDF Regional Integration for Trade of the OECS that came to an end in March 2017.
The OECS and the EU have played a key role as enablers for enhancing the competitiveness of MSMEs across these sectors, leading them to discover increased opportunities in domestic markets, as well as facilitating market access outside of the region. The support given by the Commission focuses mainly on addressing gaps in production, quality enhancement, business development, trade, and market access opportunities for MSME development. The recent funding cycle covered such areas as capacity building for small manufacturers and agro-processors, entrepreneurs in the ICT and creative industries sector, grant funding for SME development across value chains and market access support for export-ready firms.
Sound & Music The islands possess rich and varied musical talents and vibrant rhythms influenced by their history and heritage. The rhythm is strong and the beats are varied. From indigenous genres like Bouyon and Cadence-lypso from Dominica, Soca, Calypso, Dancehall and Reggae, along with world music like Jazz, Gospel and Soul, OECS music leads the way in terms of the creative sector. Music serves as a means of cultural expression and job creation, especially for young people, and helps to brand the islands as tourist destinations. The OECS Commission has been working with musicians to bring to the fore new talents and spread the word of our vibrant music culture. In 2014, a creative camp enabled a group of song-writers and producers to work on a compilation of songs, and helped to encourage and cultivate collaboration among the artistes. Recently, at the Specialty Caribbean Expo, a group of performers from the OECS created history by launching a CD compilation and performing to an audience of excited fans at the Daren Sammy Cricket Stadium.
Design & Craft The vibrant colours of the OECS landscape have also helped to breathe new life into the apparel industry in the region. A new group of designers is emerging and using the culture and heritage of the region to create products for the regional and global markets. The OECS Commission has been working with these designers to improve their craft and the marketability of their products. Resources have been invested in training for designers of both garment and craft products, providing opportunities for exposure at regional fashion events and for individual designers to address issues related to the building of their enterprises. The OECS collaborated with the Association Mawonaj of Guadeloupe to facilitate a week long training in May 2016, in the design of craft and in building collections for the export markets.
Film Production A new impetus has gone into telling our own stories and creating a unique sound on the small and big screens. The past two years have been dedicated to developing a cadre of script writers to craft stories that reflect the rich tapestry of our island cultures and the amazing tales of our people who have been left with a rich legacy by our ancestors. Building a new cinema and telling our stories will redound to the benefit of the society and people. The OECS has provided resources to a group of film makers to produce short films on a variety of subjects and situations. In addition, a number of film makers got the opportunity to attend the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival to network with international film makers and to learn best practices in film and audio-visual production.
Technology & Intellectual Property As the region looks to grow its emerging sectors, the focus continues to be on innovation and creativity to allow for the production of new products and services. The OECS Competitive Business Unit is working on building the necessary platforms to foster innovation and encourage creative enterprises. A Market Intelligence System (MKIS) is being built to serve as a platform for information sharing, data collection, and online business development. Simultaneously, much work has gone into capacity building for enterprises to mobilise resources through angel investment, venture capital fund, as well as crowd funding. Facilitating commerce online is part of the new strategic direction of the OECS and a great deal of effort has already gone into e-commerce and e-business, integrating new technologies, the banking sector in the region and the firms more engaged in the global business and market place. The OECS, through the CBU, held its first e-Payments Forum in the region in 2015 bringing regional partners together to assess the potential for growth through e-commerce. The CBU also held its first ever Tech Bootcamp for emerging ICT entrepreneurs in 2016 focusing on e-business development.
Intellectual Property (IP) is seen as central to creating wealth and creating more opportunities for creators and innovators in the region. As a result the OECS has focused on building awareness and sensitising SMEs on the value of IP, and driving home importance of IP in this changing global economic environment.
The goal of this foundational work is to build a new culture of entrepreneurship, encouraging and fostering innovation, providing a greater focus on youth and gender related development and ensuring that IP tools are used to unlock and promote the value of assets vital to the long term sustainability of our region. Enhancing business competitiveness will require new modalities for engagement with the private sector, mobilising resources to support innovation and creativity and building capacity to strengthen the managerial capabilities of firms to produce goods and services of higher standards and quality.
The 10th EDF programme provided support for a range of market access and market penetration activities. A 2014 Business and Trade Mission to Martinique and Guadeloupe set the platform for increased trade and investment exchanges between the OECS and the FCORs. Since the accession of Martinique as the newest member of the OECS, there have been several initiatives to enhance trade among the grouping and for deeper regional cooperation. Among these initiatives were: a group of agro-processors who attended the Foire de Dilon Trade Show in Martinique in April 2016; a Services Sector Mission in June 2016 focusing on professional services; a joint initiative by the CBU and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) of Martinique with the support of Caribbean Export plan to access resources under INTERREG targeting five (5) sub-sectors for increased trade among the islands and for enhancing the export capabilities of approximately thirty ( 30) SMEs in these sectors to other regional and international markets.
The Cuban market has also been targeted for attention with business leaders and SMEs from the OECS. Ten (10) OECS companies were represented at the Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV) in November 2016, where these regional entrepreneurs had an opportunity network and engage in trade talks with their counterparts. Through the support of the Trade Promotions Unit (TPU) of the Commission, both the goods and services sectors have been sensitised to market access opportunities and on trade agreements signed by the OECS, particularly on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and the CARIFORUM countries and the Cuba/CARICOM Agreement for Trade and Technical Cooperation.
The stage is now set to build on these initiatives and to strengthen regional cooperation for enhanced competiveness in the targeted sectors. Every effort is being made to consolidate on the gains made, especially with the support from the 10th EDF programme. It is hoped that with the incoming financial instrument (11th EDF) to support development activities in the region, that the OECS Commission will be even more instrumental in forging ahead with regional cooperation and enhancing the competitiveness of firms to export to key markets while creating greater opportunities for income generation, wealth creation and social and environmental sustainability.