The Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) has a promising future. This is the view of Jose Orive, chairman, Association of American Chambers of Commerce of the Caribbean and Latin America (AACCLA). Orive spoke about the CBI, which was launched in 1984 and has evolved into the Caribbean Basin Trade and Partnership Act (CBTPA) and allows preferential treatment of some goods from the Caribbean and Central America into the United States. “Thanks to the CBI, we in Central American region now supply 40 per cent of the snow peas to the US, 21 per cent of the broccoli, 19 per cent of the cauliflower and all of these products are being grown in our countries by small co-operatives that have banded together, unified their production, commercialised and then export,” he told the Business Guardian. He spoke of some of its successes over the past 25 years.
“About 38 per cent of the Levi dockers jeans in the world were being manufactured in the Caribbean and Central America. Over 50 per cent of popsicle and other products, like clothes, were being manufactured in the region.” Orive also spoke about T&T being a potentially strong negotiator on trade issues internationally. “T&T is a strong economy, T&T is very clear about where it is going. I think the zest of the people here allows them to carry on the negotiations successfully. The key is to know how to carry out negotiations successfully because carrying out bilateral negotiations is a Machiavellian exercise. You must be astute and know your rules of origins, quality standards,” he said. Orive foresees the CBI remaining relevant. “I think the agreement will remain. There is impeccable clarity from the US about the benefits that this agreement has brought about. In negotiations, a lot of people have put their eggs into the basket of the World Trade Organisation where a world agreement may be reached where everything will be sucked into.
“In the past, people spoke of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. People spoke about south and they are speaking about it again. These are sweeping categories of the realities we live which I do not like. I think now it is about sustainable development,” he said. T&T can compete with the best despite its size. “There is a lot to do in strengthening inter-Caricom trade. There is some complementary to be reached between what some Caricom islands produce and what some demand. “The Eastern Caribbean pipelines and projects like that. Caricom, with the lead of T&T, should explore new markets. Yes, you are little, but you are the king of energy. You can walk circles around three-quarters of the countries in Latin America in energy and not only teach us, but show that despite your small size, you carry weight,” he said. Orive spoke to the Business Guardian last Thursday at AmCham’s office, Maraval Road, Port-of-Spain.
Small, but still leading
Orive urged T&T not to let its small size hold it back. “There is a lot T&T can do to access markets like Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica. There is also the possibility of joint ventures and investments. We are no longer in a world where the big multinationals of the big countries are empowered or entitled to execute big projects. Despite our size, we have demonstrated we can achieve positions of leadership,” he said. He pointed out that the Central American and Caribbean region are leading producers of many products. “In Central America and the Caribbean, we are the leading producers of ficus trees and ornamental plants in the world. We are the leading producers of leading, fruits, vegetables and spices in the world. The corner market for lawyers from Wall Street continue to thrive and the supplies from those countries will come from our countries,” Orive said.
Energy service companies
Hugh Howard, director, American Chamber of Commerce of T&T (AmCham), who also sat in on the interview, cited T&T’s energy service companies as an example of T&T’s competitiveness. “From T&T, we are speaking about oil and gas products to the US which are in certain services. It is in the services sector that Caricom will have some advantage. In T&T, we have energy service companies, I think we are above the capabilities in the US. The oil industry in T&T is over 100 years old,” he said. Howard said the intention of Caricom was to ensure a robust market was developed so that the Caricom countries could compete with the major trading blocks. “I do not think we have accomplished that goal. It is an opportunity to assume a leadership role when we see Caricom is a lucrative market for T&T. T&T has had oil and gas for 100 years. Then there is the Guyana Basin, which has reserves in oil and gas. Then there is the development of shale gas in the United States, but we will suffer because of the inability to compete price wise with shale gas,” he said. Orive said small countries like T&T need to be pragmatic and work together. “We cannot stymied by protectionism or pessimism or we are inferior. We are on par with anyone in the world. Our governments and private sectors must pull together. AACCLA will continue to provide service to its members.”
Private sector and trade missions
Orive met Trade Minister Stephen Cadiz last Wednesday and had discussions on how to diversify T&T’s economy and trade activities. “The concept we discussed was the importance of developing a country position in international trade negotiations and involving the private sector and business community into the teams that represent T&T in international trade negotiations,” he said. They also discussed how AACCLA and AmCham T&T could support and train some negotiators to enhance their skills in international negotiations. He urged T&T to look at niche markets. “T&T has to tap into many of the resources it is blessed with, not only in the agro industry. As the Prime Minister said, reduce your food import bill. “T&T should develop speciality goods for high end markets and not only produce onions and peppers and shoring up the economy and, at same time, have the option to produce speciality crops that are valuable in other countries.”