The Caribbean Export Development Agency has underscored the need for the region to explore and penetrate gaps into untapped markets.
The agency is the trade and investment agency for Cariforum, which consist the Caricom countries and Dominica Republic.
According to it, since independence, the Caribbean has relied on traditional markets for goods and services, focused largely on the United States (US), European Union (EU) and Canada, importing more than we sell in these markets.
Data from the International Trade Centre (ITC) showed that in 2020, Cariform's largest export market was the US, with an export value of approximately US$10.583 billion, followed by the EU, valued at US$2.8 billion.
But given the clear emergence of new powerhouse economies in places like Africa and Asia, there is a need to deepen ties and leverage greater trade partnerships.
“We are African people…but we have never translated our inextricable people and historical and cultural ties into business relationships,” said Deodat Maharaj, executive director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency.
“Nobody said, 'Caribbean people you can't do that', so what's stopping us?” he posed.
He told the Jamaica Observer that a strong relationship with Africa could be immensely beneficial to both parties. It offers a huge trade potential, yet despite historical and cultural ties, in 2020 Cariforum exported just US$595.4 million to Africa.
However, despite the inception of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which provides a unique and valuable access to an integrated African market of over 1.2 billion people, the continent accounts for just two per cent of global trade.
Nonetheless, Maharaj pointed out that this is a step in the right direction, and the Caribbean is poised to forge a deeper relationship with Rising Africa.
Similarly, there lies potential in trading with India, which has a population of 1.4 billion and a middle class of half a billion people.
Yet Cariforum's trading is less than US$300 million annually.
“It's just makes no sense, and you may think India is a poor country. OK, they have challenges but you have a half a billion middle class. What do they love more than West Indies cricket?” Maharaj quizzed.
He said too, “We have brand recognition. How are we using the brand recognition? The answer is that we're not”.
According to him, trade with China is “one sided” as Cariforum's imports amounted to some US$11 billion, while the region exports less than half a billion.
The executive director emphasised that other non-traditional but lucrative markets include Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
In recognising the gap, the Caribbean Export Development Agency has advanced its trade and investment agenda.
Maharaj said, “You could know all the requirements but if you don't know who's buying your product then how is it going be sold? Do you know if you want to go to the EU or American market? You may have a product but do you have certification requirements, phytosanitary requirements, packaging requirements, labelling requirements? It's a very complex process to be quite honest”.
He told the Caribbean Business Report that the organisation works closely with small businesses that want to export over a period of time. This includes providing grant funding and capacity building, facilitating their introduction to and success in the market.