The OECS Commission has joined the Saint Lucia Government’s Department of Commerce, International Trade, Investment, Enterprise Development and Consumer Affairs in celebration of November as “Business Month” under the theme: Promoting an Entrepreneurial Culture – Innovation and Creativity.
In recognition of Business Month, a CARIFORUM – EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Workshop on Regional Business to Business Strategic Networking was held on Nov. 28, at the Finance Administrative Centre in Pointe Seraphine, Castries, where goods and services firms, as well as business support organizations of Saint Lucia and the wider OECS region, were exposed to a series of informative sessions on the export of products and services to the European Market.
Topics discussed at the workshop included Preparing to Export to the European Market; Defining value chains for your products and services; Understanding rules and regulations Collaborating to Export.
Hon. Bradley Felix, Minister for Commerce, International Trade, Investment, Enterprise Development and Consumer Affairs, welcomed the workshop as timely, given that December marks 10 years since the conclusion of negotiations for the CARIFORUM EU EPA.
Minister Felix said the gathering offered a chance for stakeholders “to collaborate and engage each other in a more methodical manner in devising ways to build businesses that stand a greater chance of entering the EU market.”
"As small open economies, international trade will always be the most significant part of our GDP. Competitiveness is what drives the capacity to survive in this type of environment, thus finding ways to export more of our goods and services must be top of our agenda.
The EPA provides some opportunities in that regard but we must be strategic in our domestic approach to using the agreement and we must engage the EU in a manner that leads to the conversion of market access, under the agreement, into effective market presence – especially for our service providers,” Minister Felix said.
Head of the OECS Trade Policy Unit, Ms. Virginia Paul, said the OECS Commission was pleased to partner with the Government of Saint Lucia and the EU Delegation as they seek to bring greater awareness to the EPA.
"The Commission has always sought to provide technical and financial support to enterprises and governments to help them take advantage of the EPA and this is an excellent opportunity for us to partner with agencies to facilitate a greater understanding of the rules and the arrangements for trading in Europe.
We are hoping that, not only in the plenary sessions but in the business-to-business session that follows, the workshop would allow for enterprises as well as representatives of agencies to have the opportunity to interact and share experiences of activities or initiatives that they have undertaken to be able to penetrate the market," Paul said.
Ms. Paul also noted that the provisions of the EPA are not limited to trade in goods and services but also allow for investment opportunities, cooperation and innovation - areas that the Commission also seeks to support.
In attendance at Tuesday's workshop were several clients of the OECS Competitive Business Unit. Representatives from Dominica, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines shared their thoughts on the workshop:
Dominica-based businessman Mr. John Robin, Owner of Benjo’s Seamoss thanked the organizers for reaching out to the business community in Dominica at this crucial time, following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and outlined some of the areas that he hoped would be addressed at the informative gathering.
“Traditionally, we have focused most of our effort on growing and exporting raw material. I think the time has come where we need to stop the talking about value-added and begin developing a holistic approach.
A significant number of the products that are produced in the Caribbean have tremendous international potential if they are developed and are taken to the international markets. We need assistance with marketing and I think that if were are able to link with the right persons in the industry in this area we can achieve much more,” Robin added.
Ms. Theresa Jn Baptiste, Marketing Manager for Sunfresh (Winfresh) Ltd said the collaborative aspect of the workshop would help to create much-needed synergies among Member States.
“When all Member States come together you find that there are more opportunities on the EU Market. Perhaps we can do negations as CARIFORUM, if we conduct negotiations as one we are better positioned to penetrate the EU market,” Jn Baptiste commented.
Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sales and Marketing Executive for Vincyfresh (Winfresh) Ltd said the workshop was important for the Winfresh Group.
“We know that the mandate for the EPA is to increase or stimulate economic growth among Member States.
As we are owned by the Government of the Windward Islands, we see this as an opportunity for us to capitalise on whatever trade opportunities are available to us among our Member States,” Fraiser said.
The EPA is a trade and development agreement signed between the CARIFORUM and European Union Member States on October 15th, 2008. The objectives of the EPA include, inter alia, promoting the integration of CARIFORUM States into the world economy and supporting the conditions for increasing trade and investment.