The Caribbean region offers a number of opportunities for the business
community but is also faced with a number of challenges. This was the
message of President Bharrat Jagdeo who was the feature presenter at the
three-day inaugural Caribbean-American Business Expo and Conference
concluded yesterday in Orlando, Central Florida.
The challenges identified by the President were:1) the changing trading
patterns and arrangements affecting the domestic econo-mies of the region;
2) migration; 3) drugs and guns; and 4) crime.
The Conference, a presentation of the Caribbean Sun newspaper, published
by Guyanese Mr. Wesley Kirton and circulated free of charge in the USA was
set to coincide with the observance of the First Caribbean Heritage Month
declared by the state of Florida, the destination of choice for an
increasing number of Caribbean nationals to North America.
President Jagdeo would no doubt have been impressed by the seriousness
with which Florida approaches the private sector which partners with
government leaders in Enterprise Florida Inc., the principal economic
development organization for the state. Close to one million jobs in the
state derive from foreign trade with exports of goods accounting for $44 B.
and services of $21 B in 2005, making Florida the Number 3 technology
exporter in the country.
Business friendly state:
Messages to the Conference were sent by Governor Jeb Bush, who has shown
a keen interest and deep respect for the Caribbean nationals resident in his
state, Senator Gary Siplin, and the mayors of Orlando and Orange County.
Officials from the state and federal government participated in every one of
the nine sessions which covered topics ranging from the CARICOM Single
Market and Economy (CSME) to the regulatory framework for the importation of
goods and migration into the state. With its shores washed by the Caribbean
Sea, Florida is a destination of choice not only for nationals of the
Caribbean and Central and South America, making it effectively a bilingual
state, but also for Americans and Europeans attracted by the warm climate
and the US's fastest growing economy.
Floridians are extremely proud of their achievements after just fifty
years of industrialisation and commercialisation which now ranks the
economy, in dollar terms, with that of Holland. For this, a single company,
Lockheed Martin, a major defence contractor is credited with being the
catalyst with its decision to establish in the state to be followed some
years later by Walt Disney who established the world renowned theme park
with its Mickey Mouse logo on what was virgin land.
The Expo and Conference attracted some eighty booths with thirty-five of
them from Guyana some of whose top businesses were as much noted for their
presence as others were by their absence. As important however were the
information-packed sessions featuring prominent personalities including
diplomats and bureaucrats from the region as well as the USA.
Describing the Caribbean as the Third Border of the US, President Jagdeo
noted the value of the Diaspora to the region and suggested that the
Caribbean and the US are linked in a number of other ways including a range
of security, political and co-operative arrangements. The USA is the major
trading partner of the region as a whole but not necessarily for all the
countries and is also the major source of Foreign Direct Investment to the
region with its true potential still to be realised.
President Jagdeo acknowledged the contribution to Guyana by Presidents
Carter and the first George Bush but criticised the low value of support the
region and Guyana in particular are receiving in their fight against drugs
for which the region acts as a surrogate of the US. He noted that the
hundreds of millions given to Colombia to fight drugs have had the effect of
a change of the drug trail from Colombia to Guyana and other countries and
suggested that the region could deliver better results if the US were to
increase its contribution to the regional efforts to stem the flow of
narcotics into the US.
On trade, President Jagdeo spoke at some length on the developments at
the level of the World Trade Organisation, the impact of the new trading
regime affecting the export of regional agricultural produce into the EU and
the region's response. Among these are the launching of the CSME and
lobbying efforts on the extension of the Caribbean Basin Initiative
framework including the CB Economic Recovery Act. In his wide-ranging
address he also dealt with the stalled implementation of the Free Trade Area
of the Americas (FTAA) which he attributed in part to the failure of the WTO
to resolve a number of issues such as domestic agricultural subsidies in the
US and EU, the opening of the trade in agricultural produce, expanded trade
in services and intellectual property rights which have re-opened the
North-South divide and more recently to political changes in South America
where newly elected left-leaning governments seem suspicious of the motives
of the US.
It seems clear however that the US will not wait indefinitely for the
crystallisation of the FTAA and has concluded a separate free trade
agreement with the Dominican Republic and the countries of Central America.
More troubling, there had been indications that at least two CARICOM
countries are interested in bilateral relationships with the US which could
adversely affect the regional grouping. Thankfully, there have been no
recent developments in this regard and on the contrary, the CSME has
advanced and is scheduled to come into full effect by 2008.
In an indication that the FTAA is not dead, Jagdeo announced to the large
gathering of business persons, diplomats, officials and visitors from across
the region that CARICOM leaders had reaffirmed to Secretary of State Dr.
Condoleezza Rice their interest in the hemispheric pact provided that
allowance is made for the disparity in the level of economic development in
the countries of the region.
Emigration and crime:
President Jagdeo noted the impact of the migration of skills and capital
of Caribbean nationals to North America but did not deal with the brain
gain, an elusive concept discussed at the recent Business Summit in Guyana.
It only takes a walk down Liberty Avenue in Queens, New York or attendance
at any private or public Caribbean function to realise the scale of the
migration. At one wedding reception I attended in New York recently, I could
not help but note that among the guests were a number of professionals,
entrepreneurs and persons who could easily constitute a ministerial cabinet
or major business enterprise. The same with the Orlando Conference which no
doubt is replicated across North America and the UK. The political
directorate of the region needs to address the implications for the region
of its young people, its middle class, its entrepreneurs and its artisans
migrating in droves.
On crime, President Jagdeo noted that in his country the ratio of police
to deportees of hard core criminals by the US was less than four to one but
while noting that many of these persons honed their criminal skills in the
US and were returning almost invariably penniless to what was effectively a
strange land, he avoided any direct criticism of the heavy-handed policy
under which this takes place. Perhaps the President is aware that in Guyana,
only limited work has been done on the impact of deportees on the level of
crime in the country or on the possibility that many of these persons find
creative ways to re-enter the US.
The President made a plug to the federal and state officials in the
audience for a better understanding of the close and natural ties between
the US and the region emphasising the common language, political and social
values and proximity as critical elements in the development of increasing
trading relationships. He emphasised the region's stable democracies,
guarantees on private property, hassle-free regulatory framework and
non-discriminatory laws on investment and land holdings.
He noted as well the increasing recognition of the region and that for
the first time the Rio Group will be holding its meeting in an
English-speaking country in the Caribbean, as will the directors of the IMF
and World Bank.
Whether those who have left their countries and the region for greener
pastures and have settled their children into schools and their spouses into
comfortable homes in often secure, gated communities will respond to his
calls for investments is left to be seen. The ownership pattern of
Caribbean-owned businesses in North America is no different from the
obsessively secretly-run family businesses 'back home' and it is perhaps a
little too early to criticise the fact that there has not been a single case
of Caribbean nationals establishing a publicly owned company outside of the
Mr. Kirton and the sponsors of the Expo and Conference were widely
complimented for the bold initiative in hosting such an event which if it
could be criticised at all would be for an extremely packed programme which
did not allow for sufficient participation by the business persons who also
had to stay with their displays. The discourse between the legislators, the
bureaucrats and the Caribbean nationals and businesspersons, if properly
followed through, could signal the beginning of a new era of cooperation and
success for those nationals and businesspersons in Florida and businesses in
If this initiative could be replicated in other major cities in North
America and indeed in the Caribbean, the benefits could be substantial and
immediate. The question is, who will take that initiative? Could it be
President Jagdeo or CARICOM?