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Why is the Caribbean not a BRICS-M nation?

bricsnations19012018The cruise industry makes half of its $40 billion in the Caribbean, Digicel makes over $3.5 billion off of its Caribbean pan America investments, the Caribbean airline industry share is about 7% (+/-$50 billion) of $720 billion, and the banking industry, the oil industry – refineries, Caribbean international resort chain partners is an average $45 billion industry, rum, alcohol beverages, and beverage business, agricultural and natural resource export products – bananas, citrus, rice, flower, coffee, salt, cocoa, etc. etc., educational product – students who go off to study and an estimated sixty to eighty percent never come back. And finally in looking at the GDP of the major BRICS nations will also give us an indication of what it takes to be within the top echelon of global leaders - Brazil GDP-1.796 trillion USD (2016), Russia- 1.283 trillion USD (2016), India-2.264 trillion USD (2016), China-11.2 trillion USD (2016), South Africa-294.8 billion USD (2016).

Starting a discussion on the subject of the Caribbean becoming an independent nation of islands brings a subject up that has been on the minds of the region and the world for many years. The main question that everyone wants an answer to is why has the Caribbean not united as yet or what is causing the Caribbean to continue to stagnate and never fulfill a clearly observed and obvious fact.

Multinationals, developed nations, international investment agencies, professionals, retirees, and migrating persons and families are all very active within the Caribbean region for many years now. Another very serious statistic is the fact that a large percentage of Caribbean citizens leave the Caribbean to further their studies in multiple developed nations and never return - the brain drain syndrome. And finally essential to consider is the fact that many have voiced that there is no convincing regional vision that exists that can show a path forward giving the Caribbean nations and international partners a clear perspective as to its future intentions.

What is the way forward? Should the Caribbean consider the path of the global giants by considering appealing to the criteria that is needed to become a BRICS nation by becoming a developing or newly industrialized country, which must have large, fast-growing economies and significant influence on regional and global affairs and must be a member of the G-20. Or should the Caribbean nation of islands go with its natural mega-regional multi-leveled social, cultural, environmental, and economic dynamic? Another path that can be traveled is for the Caribbean to continue the way it has been going and simply go with whatever wind of change the world comes up with, like the chaff that fades away, and allow those inventions, projections, developments etc. to come and pass through our Caribbean showers, whatever sticks - sticks – and or whatever does not work disappears and is never to be seen again.

Using this moment to recount the many failed and successful initiatives that have passed through and are still active in the Caribbean is not the intention of this article, but what is essential is that we recognize that condition and agree or disagree as to what we as a Caribbean nation of islands want to do going forward.

Like giants casting their proverbial shadow, so are the many and multiple agents of multinationals, global development entities and organizations that are standing on the parameter of the Caribbean mega-region. Some questions come to mind. What does the Caribbean need to do to encourage strategic island and regional growth, regional innovation and entrepreneurship? What will it take to have leaders of the nations of the Caribbean sit together and explore the opportunities that they can exploit by being a united region? And finally when will the Caribbean nation of islands hoist its flag of Identity to the world, by no longer adhering to the many miss representations and philosophical distractions of the Caribbean’s true social and cultural belonging? Without a solid foundation to start from the Caribbean, as a whole, will be continually a loosed region or nation – a nation divided cannot stand. It is time for the Caribbean nation of island leaders to assemble and define their corporate foundation so that the coming generations of great Caribbean leaders, PHD recipients, innovators, entrepreneurs, and Pulitzer Prize winners will know why and what they are building.

By ir. Damien Richardson

Exploring new spaces for cooperation between Latin America and the Caribbean and China.

The Second Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and China, which will be held in Santiago, Chile on Monday, January 22, marks a new milestone in the economic, political and cooperation-related ties between the region and China. During the first meeting held in January 2015 in Beijing, both sides adopted a cooperation plan for the 2015-2019 period. Its targets include reaching by 2025 a total trade exchange of at least $500 billion dollars and mutual foreign direct investment near $250 billion dollars.

The Second Ministerial Meeting of the CELAC-China Forum is taking place at a time when humanity faces enormous challenges, such as growing inequality, climate change, geopolitical tensions, migratory crises, and the disruptive impacts of automation and the digital revolution. All of this in the context of great uncertainty regarding the prospects for multilateral cooperation and of the emergence of isolationist views among some central actors in the international system. In this complex scenario, China has expressed a firm commitment to the quest for economic growth centered on shared prosperity, environmental protection, multilateralism and the principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These are the values that inspire the ambitious One Belt One Road initiative (known as OBOR), a civilizing proposal in which Latin America and the Caribbean must get involved. Although a vast ocean separates us from China, OBOR opens the door to growing closer by improving our aerial, maritime and digital connectivity. The second meeting in Santiago will be an opportunity to evaluate progress on its implementation and to define new orientations for the coming decade. As part of the preparations for this momentous meeting, last October ECLAC had the privilege of hosting the First CELAC-China High-level Academic Forum at its headquarters.

For this Second Ministerial Meeting of the CELAC-China Forum, ECLAC has prepared a new document entitled: “Exploring new forms of cooperation between China and Latin America and the Caribbean”. It explains that China and Latin America and the Caribbean multiplied by 22 times their trade exchange between 2000 and 2013. Also, after recording three consecutive years of declines in its value, trade in goods between the region and China sharply recovered in 2017, with an expansion estimated at 16% and totaling about $266 billion dollars. Beyond this good news, the diversification of the export basket to China continues to be a pending issue for the region: just five products, all of them basic, represented 70% of the total value of shipments in 2016. In this context, the food sector offers great potential for diversifying and adding value to exports to China, since here the region keeps a trade surplus close to $23 billion dollars.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) can play a central role in generating a more balanced and diversified economic relationship between the region and China. In fact, in 2016 China became the second biggest foreign investor at a global level. Two good bits of news are that Chinese FDI in our region increased substantially in 2017, surpassing $25 billion dollars, and that an incipient diversification of these flows toward sectors such as telecommunications, food and renewable energy can be seen. We need for this process to continue and deepen, with greater Chinese investment in industrial and service sectors that generates larger chains with providers from the region, especially Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

At the Second Ministerial Meeting of the CELAC-China Forum, ECLAC will stress the urgency of agreeing upon actions that allow for diversifying trade and foreign investment flows and deepening cooperation on the issues of energy, natural resources, infrastructure, industry, innovation in 4.0 technologies and connectivity. In all these areas, it is possible to identify common challenges and possibilities for sharing experiences and knowledge from a perspective of mutual benefit. In sum, this is about both parties taking a leap forward in terms of the quality of their relationship, placing innovation as a pillar of development and moving toward inclusive and sustainable development through an environmental big push.

Alicia Bárcena
Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)

USM should be put as a top priority on the to do list.

Dear Mr. Editor,

First, I would like to congratulate the incoming UP/DP/Brownbill Government which I have a lot of confidence in to move us forward and addressing the real issues affecting our island.
One of the real issues I would like the Minister of Education to put high on her priority list is to accelerate the adjusted design of the draft Tertiary for Education Ordinance and to present an advanced/adjusted draft much sooner than the previous Government.
As a former Member of Parliament, I believe the previous Government could have done a better job of speeding up the process of the draft Tertiary for Education law instead of waiting two years to work on it and to have the draft ready earlier than June 2018 to present it to the Council of Ministers for approval.
I also would advise the Minister of Education to let USM Management give their input in the drafting of the law in which the former President of USM was denied in the past to give such input in the drafting of the law. This is the time for us to raise the bar and do the right thing with the input from all stakeholders in the urgent drafting of this much-needed draft ordinance for the island of St. Maarten.
There is no politics in Education. Education is our greatest pathway to opportunity in St. Maarten. So we need to invest in and strengthen our university today, and for generations to come. Education should be the Legislature's and any Government top priority and should be put at the top of any Government to do list. We need to come with a permanent solution instead of a three month MOU to save our University of St. Martin and find creative ways to increase their subsidy for USM to continue to educate our people and future generations.
In closing, I am looking forward for the new Minister of Education to put USM on the top of her to do list during her interim period in office. USM Board, Management, Staff, Faculty, Students and the people of St. Maarten would be very grateful for your assistance of making USM again the key to a brighter future in our community. USM education is an investment in our future.

Maurice Lake

The Caribbean needs incubators!

budslabbaert05102017Wow, why, what? Is there an upcoming baby-boom? Is it related to this year’s carnival? Why don’t they distribute contraceptives? Those are questions that I don’t have answers for. But I had something else in mind anyway. I believe that the Caribbean needs Business Incubators.

Unemployment rates in the region are too high; especially among young persons. There is no such a thing as opening up a can of jobs. The problem does not get enough attention. Well, attention maybe, if one considers ‘talk-talk’ to be attention. In some cases, measures are taken, like providing extended education for young people. However, how does having another education certificate help, if one is still not able to find employment, because jobs are just not available. There is a distinct difference between providing a job and keeping persons entertained for another one or two years. Yet, it is meant well, so one should not criticize too much. The basic thinking behind it is not wrong but it is not creating jobs. Jobs are created by businesses.

Then let’s create businesses. Start-ups. Some young talented persons or spirited members of an earlier generation may be able to get an operation going. So, let’s make special loans available at attractive soft conditions. That’s positive thinking. It may work well if the operation is retail related because a turnover of products could bring revenues fairly quick. What about the entrepreneurs-to-be who are into offering services that need more lead time to bring in revenue. Some professionals in their own right are just not typically salespersons to market their services. Their activities may be valuable but are too specialized for a quick start.

Just imagine how their startup-up funding may be used. First renting an office space; usually one or two-month rent deposit is required. Buying office furniture and equipment. Acquiring telephone and internet connections. Secretarial services may be needed. Every startup may have different needs. Listing all those may look like dramatizing things. Thus, I stop here. One thing should be mentioned though is that the young entrepreneurs may lack some experience in running an operation, like marketing, accounting or other skills.

What if a Business Incubator was available? A facility that would have space to accommodate several startups. The individual units would be fully furnished. Telephone connections through a central system. WIFI signal throughout the building. Central secretarial services. In principle, one facility administration takes care of all, including things as hiring services ranging from cleaning to accounting. Management training could be included in the incubator concept. It would be a truly professional and motivating environment to operate from. Since there are several start-ups with different services in the same building, it is very well possible that the incubatees could cooperate and initiate joined activities. The model of the Incubator can be shaped to the needs of a particular territory, or for the typical professional needs of a certain group of startups.

Taking part in the Business Incubator should in principle be free. Of, course there will be conditions and agreements before being accepted. The funding for the facility could be provided by a government agency (e.g. Development Authority), Chamber of Commerce, or an International Development Bank. An incubator could be part of, or associated with a college or university.

In 2009, a Caribbean Business Incubator Association was launched by representatives from 10 independent Caribbean countries. Some had business incubation programs, other were preparing implementation of such programs. It was in the line of thinking being a part of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy. The organization announced that it was member of a global organization of more than 300 incubators in 86 countries. But the organization is not operational anymore. The Association is dormant due to lack of funding.

On a local level, the idea of a Business Incubation deserves a closer look. The idea of a Business Incubator is not new. It is a catalyst tool for economic development. It can be part of the solution to develop new native businesses that encourage self-employment first, and when the new operation is successful and grows, it can provide employment for others. A bit of a multiplying effect.

Business Incubators can be shaped for any need or seize They could be as big a technology parks. Let’s not go too far though with our imagination and keep both feet on the ground considering where we are. But then again, when reaching out for the stars, one will not end up with a hand full of mud. Mind that my columns should only be considered as ‘food-for-thought’. I’m old and wise enough to know how I myself would handle a circumstance if needed to. But who am I? Yet, an old fox knows more tricks to get a rabbit out of a hole than a puppy with a degree. I just do my writing to help others with ideas.

Caribbean territories should focus more on the potential of entrepreneurs as drivers of economic growth and play an important role in job creation. A study has shown that there is no specific geographic trend in terms of where innovative entrepreneurs can be found. There is no evidence either that developed countries have a higher rate of novel product-market combination. So..., let’s get going here.

by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

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