THE Caribbean should put aside its intracompetitiveness and come together to jointly market the region's products, the executive director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency said recently in London.
“We need to do joint packaging, labelling, shipping, and so on and share the cost,” said Pamela Coke Hamilton.
The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade expressed an interest just last year in trading with a collective Caribbean, instead of individual countries, she said.
“They say we are investing in the Caribbean a lot and want to import certain items, but they do not have the time, energy or interest in going from island to island.”
The Chinese, she said, expressed a desire to have a central clearing house from which to order.
“At some point, we need to decide what is it we want; if we want to stay separate that is a choice,” she said. “But that will not lead to great wealth and success.
Coke Hamilton was speaking with the Jamaica Observer during the recently concluded CARIFORUM-EU business forum at the Grosvenor Place Hotel in London.
The forum, staged by her agency in partnership with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Union, was aimed at helping business capitalise on the Caribbean's free trade agreement with Europe, which has not seen many notable outcomes since it was signed in October 2008.
Strengthening the quality and standard of locally produced goods remains a constant challenge for exporters, she said. “It is very hard to police, but we have to remind persons that failure to do so means that we will lose out on markets.”
Several African countries and high-end British traders have expressed an interest in sourcing Jamaican produce and manufactured products such as liqueurs and jams.
But while Caribbean businesses would welcome such trade, getting the goods to market would pose a challenge, Coke Hamilton said.
Among the recommendations for addressing this problem is for those exporters with distributors already in the UK to arrange for African companies to source the goods from there.
During a recent tour of the New Covent Garden Market in London, Anthony Hylton, the Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister, met traders who expressed an interest in buying Jamaican ground produce, if the quality can be maintained.
Some 80 per cent of the customers at this high-end fruit and vegetable market are restaurants. The remainder of the stock, which comes from all over the world, is for retail sale.
“They (the traders) buy Jamaican produce from time to time but are concerned that Jamaican produce is not in the best of condition [when it comes] and also the consistency has been an issue,” Hylton said after the tour. If this is addressed, Jamaican produce would be in high demand in countries like the UK where buyers continuously commend the produce for the taste, even if it does not meet the standard appearance.
This could lead to Jamaican produce being marketed on a large scale in Britain, Hylton said, adding that Jamaican exporters can meet the required standards and must do so.
Producers and financiers must discuss a joint approach with the emphasis on the handling and transporting of products from the field to the ports to ensure that they are still fresh when they arrive at the market, he said. For this to happen, Hylton said, the Government must intervene. “This will require a level of investment that Government will have to participate in one way or the other.”
The solution may be a public partnership to establish a specifically designed facility to enable this, he said.
Alexander Walford of the European Union said the €28 million ($3.1 billion) the community is giving to fund Caribbean export between now and 2015 will allow a lot of businesses to make use of the free trade agreement.
“The standards are evolving and they are not fixed and so the EU is providing help in working with key standard bodies to meet international standards,” he said.
The second staging of CARIFORUM, which attracted 281 registered person plus walk-ins to its seminars, has helped to raise the level of European awareness of the Caribbean, Coke Hamilton said.
The next staging, which will be two years from now, could be in Brazil, as that country has a major export link with the Caribbean, Coke Hamilton said. “Brazil is the major intra-export region, which is in our own backyard, and we need to make use of it.”