Caribbean Investment Forum 2024 in Guyana: A Resounding Success

From July 10-12, 2024, the Caribbean Investment Forum (CIF) in Guyana has highlighted the significance of establishing effective public-private partnerships within the Caribbean region. During the forum’s third day, there was not just a call, but a resounding demand for a transformative approach to investment finance for regional opportunities, inspiring hope and confidence in the audience.

CIF 2024 was hosted by the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) under the theme ‘Transforming Our Future, Empowering Growth’ in collaboration the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, the European Union, the CARICOM Secretariat and the Caribbean Development Bank. The event attracted over 450 participants who came together to discuss sustainable agriculture and the green economy agenda. This strategic initiative by Caribbean Export was designed to bridge the gap between global investors and Caribbean opportunities, instilling confidence in the region’s investment potential.

Oneidge Walrond, Guyana’s Minister of Tourism, Industry, and Commerce, hailed the event as a resounding success in her closing remarks. She expressed gratitude on behalf of the Government of Guyana for hosting such a significant event, emphasizing the forum’s role in facilitating crucial discussions on regional and global trade barriers, sustainable agriculture, digitalization of business, and the transition to a green economy, all of which are key topics in the current investment landscape.

Minister Walrond highlighted the evolving dynamics of trade, pointing to a shift in investor focus towards non-traditional markets. “The government of Guyana is fully aware of the importance of this forum for the sustainable development of our Caribbean region. CIF has once again provided a dedicated space for global and regional interactions, many of which we hope to evolve into long-lasting partnerships and business relationships,” she said.

Dr. Peter Ramsaroop, Guyana’s Chief Investment Officer, presented an optimistic outlook on Guyana’s investment landscape for 2030 and beyond. He identified opportunities in the agriculture sector to achieve regional self-sufficiency in food production through Agri-tech and large-scale farming. Dr. Ramsaroop emphasized the value of Guyana’s investment, urging Caribbean countries to develop products that can reach the wider world. “We in the Caribbean call ourselves small states, but if we look at ourselves together, we are not small. [The Caribbean] has quite a bit of investment opportunities,” he noted.

Delegates from the public and private sectors gained insights from Elizabeth Martinez de Marcano, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Regional Director for Colombia, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. She stressed the importance of strategic investments to unlock the full potential of Small Island Developing States through innovation and sustainability. Martinez de Marcano highlighted the uneven economic performance across the Caribbean, noting that some countries are expected to grow while others face economic contractions due to political instability and lack of economic diversification. “Partnerships are crucial for a sustainable impact, especially in smaller markets,” she stated.

Ms. Martinez de Marcano highlighted how the World Bank Group collaborates closely with other development partners to support this goal. “IFC plays a vital role in enhancing Caribbean states’ resilience and long-term sustainability by facilitating private investor access to these markets,” she noted. Over the past decade, IFC has invested $838 million in the Caribbean to bolster the private sector’s role and is committed to increasing this support in the future.

Another highlight of the day was Kerryne James, Grenada’s Minister for Climate Resilience, the Environment, and Renewable Energy, who stressed the need for innovative investment strategies to foster sustainable development in the Caribbean.

During the Ministerial spotlight, ‘Fostering Sustainable Development Through Innovative Investment Strategies in The Caribbean: Opportunities and Challenges,’ moderated by Dr. Damie Sinanan, Executive Director of Caribbean Export, the Minister called for action to promote climate resilience, robust climate financing, and the involvement of both the public and private sectors in mainstreaming climate resilience, especially after the devastating Hurricane Beryl. “We need action, and it is vital that we act now; we cannot wait for another disaster. We have to talk less and act more because small state islands are represented at forums like CIF,” she said.

At the ‘Fireside Chat—Pioneering Impact Investment: Transforming Strategies for Social Good,’ Kieron Boyle, Chief Executive Officer, Impact Investing Institute, connected with the delegated and, through his expertise and experience, pointed them in the right direction regarding navigating impact investments.

There was an update on the Connect Caribé Summit (“Navigating New Horizons: Bridging Travel, Trade, and E-Commerce Across the Caribbean”). The summit is scheduled in Bridgetown, Barbados, on July 23rd and 24th at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. H.E. Ambassador Dr. Andre Thomas, Chairman & CEO of Pleion Group Inc., the Parent Group of Connect Caribe, delivered the update. He shared progress on the Ferry project following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Caribbean Export. This latest MOU highlights the crucial role of connecting investors with Caribbean businesses.

To bring the curtains down on CIF 2024, there were country presentations and Q&A session presentations by Pro Dominicana and the Dominican Republic UNIDO, MSME Invest Turks & Caicos, Investments InvesTT, Invest Barbados, St Kitts Investment Promotion Agency, Grenada Investment Development Corporation, and Invest Dominica Authority.

The Caribbean Investment Forum successfully brought together key stakeholders and experts to explore new investment opportunities, regional collaborations, and strategies for fostering sustainable and resilient economies in the Caribbean region.

Therefore, this demonstrates that the Caribbean region is at a pivotal moment, embracing transformative approaches to investment finance that can catalyze sustainable development and prosperity for all. From sustainable agriculture to the digitalization of business and the transition to a green economy, the region is ready to champion a sustainable revolution, demonstrating the efficacy of innovative solutions to drive prosperity and resilience.

Auntie Phyllis Bajan BBQ Sauce: Bringing the Flavors of Barbados to the Regional Market Through E-Commerce

Barbados in a bottle’ is the phrase entrepreneur Wayne Ifill uses to describes his brand ‘Auntie Phyllis Bajan BBQ Sauce’.

Bursting with flavours that are synonymous with the island, Wayne’s five sauces are available at several local outlets, and soon they will also be selling online as he prepares to launch an ecommerce platform following his participation in Caribbean Export’s Virtual E-Commerce Accelerator Programme (VEAP).

Wayne says he took part in VEAP because “the digital world is where we’re going” and he wants to be able to make the most of global interest in Caribbean food and flavours.

The VEAP Technical Cooperation Initiative was a ‘learning by doing’ intervention implemented by Caribbean Export in conjunction with Expertise France through the European Union’s (DIRECCT) Programme.

Businesses enrolled in the sessions to learn from master trainers who equipped them with a range of practical skills, including how to develop an e-commerce business strategy; e-commerce value and pricing; e-commerce payment systems; and understanding data analysis and reporting.

Wayne says he felt the programme would help him find ways to supplement the physical spaces where his sauces can be bought and create a sales platform that is accessible around the world 24/7.

“To be able to do things online, is an added plus, a bonus,” Wayne says. “It was a no brainer to take part once the opportunity came up because we know, especially from COVID, that physical spaces have their limits and being online you can overcome most of those. It gives people a chance to see you; resonate, relate, and communicate and then hopefully buy from you.”

Wayne’s branded website currently shares the story of his company and offers more information on how his sauces can be used, but it does not currently have an e-commerce function. He is hoping to launch that capability within the next few months.

He is also working on developing an export strategy with Export Barbados (formerly the Barbados Investment & Development Corporation) after interest in his product from the UK and believes a fully operational e-commerce platform is now a necessity to expand beyond the region.

Wayne reveals that setting up an e-commerce website has taken a lot of “back-end work” as well as investment in technology to ensure it is safe and secure, which he learned through VEAP is of vital importance.

He adds: “VEAP didn’t just widened my knowledge about the benefits of being online, it also looked at some of the challenges due to things like cybercrime and customers needing to be assured that their credit card information will be secure. So, VEAP showed me how technology can be used to overcome those fears.”

Along with enhancing the Auntie Phyllis website, Wayne will be busy over the next few months working on the final recipe for a fish sauce that he hopes will have wide appeal because it is not mayonnaise based and is therefore suitable for vegetarians and vegans. He also has a dry rub product and is planning to launch travel packs targeted at the tourism market.

Wayne’s product line has come a long way from its start in 2009. Initially, he started making BBQ sauce for his small fast-food canteen because he was dissatisfied with the ones he found in the shops and kept having to tweak them to improve their flavour.

After encouragement from his staff and customers, Wayne decided to focus on infusing local ingredients like rum, hot pepper, and pineapple and soon had recipes for four sauces along with the original. In 2019, he officially launched Auntie Phyllis (named after his mother) and now his condiments are on shelves alongside the sauces he used to buy.

When asked to describe his product, Wayne summarises it as “a premium quality, purchase and pour line of BBQ sauces that embrace Bajan culture’.

He explains: “It is premium because when it is poured out you can see the ingredients, flavour, and texture and that tells you that this is a good sauce.

He adds: “You also don’t have to add anything to it. Every sauce has the exact flavour you desire. The original is the one that you can put your own twist to because I can’t make every single flavour, so the original is a good base, and you can add what you like to that one.

“I can guarantee that no other sauce tastes as good as Auntie Phyllis!”

Caribbean Export Participates in Diaspora Panel at the 2024 MSME International Conference

On March 13-14, 2024, team members from the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) attended the 2024 MSME International Conference and the VIII Inter-American Dialogue of High-Level MSME Authorities on the invitation of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These events provided a platform for global leaders to converge and strategize on bolstering Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) worldwide.

Caribbean Export was front and center, joining esteemed speakers such as Misha Lobban Clarke, Dr. Claire A. Nelson, Rick C. Wade, and Anthony Hinojosa in a riveting panel discussion on ‘Tapping Diaspora Markets for MSME Export Success.’ This session not only showcased the agency’s expertise but also underscored its commitment to leveraging diaspora networks for the advancement of Caribbean businesses on the global stage.

The agency’s efforts did not go unnoticed, as fellow panelists, including Jodie Dublin-Dangleben from Jaydees Naturals in Dominica, commended Caribbean Export for its unwavering support for regional enterprises and its steadfast dedication to MSME development. Such accolades serve as a testament to the agency’s impactful initiatives and its pivotal role in driving economic growth across the Caribbean.

Beyond the confines of conference rooms, Caribbean Export seized the opportunity to engage with key stakeholders from prominent organizations such as The World Bank/IFC, USAID, Inter-American Development Bank, U.S. Department of State, Pan American Development Foundation, and RTI International. These engagements are instrumental in fostering new partnerships and strengthening existing ones, paving the way for collaborative efforts aimed at enhancing Caribbean resilience and prosperity.

One notable meeting took place with Ambassador Louis Harold JOSEPH, Charge d’Affaires a.i. at the Embassy of Haiti in the United States, where discussions revolved around Caribbean Export’s plans to bolster private sector development in Haiti. Among the initiatives on the table was the launch of a recovery facility in collaboration with interested partners, underscoring the agency’s commitment to supporting economic revitalization efforts in the region.

As the curtains drew to a close on a week filled with meaningful exchanges and strategic collaborations, Caribbean Export returned home imbued with a sense of purpose and determination. The collective spirit of cooperation that permeated throughout the conference reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to empower Caribbean MSMEs and drive sustainable growth and prosperity across the region.

In the wake of this fruitful week in Washington, DC, Caribbean Export stands poised to continue its mission of championing Caribbean businesses, forging strategic alliances, and propelling the region towards a brighter and more prosperous future.

Chair and Deputy Chair Reelected to Caribbean Export’s Board of Directors

Dr. Lynette Holder and Dr. Leroy Almendarez, have been reelected as Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of Caribbean Export Development Agency’s Board of Directors this past October 26, 2023 at latest board meeting held in Nassau, The Bahamas. Their unopposed re-election underscores a strong endorsement of dedicated leadership in the midst of ongoing regional challenges. In recent years, the Agency has faced the task of repositioning itself, and the Board, collectively, has shown steadfast support throughout this transformative period.

Caribbean Export operates with a profound mandate – to foster sustainable economic development and regional integration throughout the Caribbean. It aspires to uplift the lives and prospects of the diverse nations within the Caribbean region. This commitment is reflected in the Agency’s multifaceted efforts aimed at enhancing trade, investment, innovation, and entrepreneurship – all essential ingredients for the advancement of this vibrant and culturally rich community.

At the heart of Caribbean Export’s operations is its Board of Directors, a group of dedicated individuals, representing the 15 member states of CARIFORUM, who serve as the Agency’s guiding compass, steering it towards the attainment of its goals and ensuring that its efforts contribute to the betterment of the region.

Regarding her re-election to the Board, Dr. Holder stated: “ The overwhelming support from my regional colleagues has been both humbling and an encouragement that we are on the right track in making the agency fit-for-purpose at this time. Caribbean businesses and by extension people, expect their regional export development agency to provide the programmes and interventions needed to make a tangible difference in their lives and livelihoods as we confront a myriad of internal and external challenges. I am appreciative to every Director for reposing the confidence in me to lead the team for another term.”

One of the Agency’s core principles is the practice of good governance. Transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct are the cornerstones of Caribbean Export’s operations. This commitment not only ensures the organisation’s integrity but also positions it as a beacon of hope and opportunity for the people of the Caribbean region.

Together with the collective wisdom of the Board of Directors, Caribbean Export is well-poised to realise its vision of a prosperous and integrated Caribbean, where economic growth and cultural richness can coexist harmoniously, bringing prosperity and opportunities to the nations and people of the region.

Strengthening Bonds: Africa-CARICOM Day Celebrated on September 7

Africa-CARICOM Day, celebrated on September 7th, serves as an important reminder of the enduring cultural and economic bonds between the African continent and the Caribbean region. This annual celebration not only commemorates shared histories but also shines a spotlight on the promising potential of strengthened trade relations.

Beyond the cultural ties that unite these regions, there lies a vast opportunity for deepening economic cooperation. Organisations like the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) play a pivotal role in realising this potential.

Throughout 2023, Caribbean Export displayed unwavering commitment to advancing trade and investment between these two dynamic regions. Its efforts included a successful mission to selected African markets, strategically designed to strengthen cooperation, bolster trade and investment, and cultivate partnerships across key sectors, including renewable energy, agriculture, AgTech, ICT, and Fintech. Notably, the Agency received the prestigious appointment as an Ambassador for Africa’s premier Trade and Investment Forum, IATF2023.

In a recent Op-ed authored by the Agency’s Executive Director, Deodat Maharaj, published by the Overseas Development Institute, the call for robust, direct business engagements in critical sectors reverberated. Maharaj passionately advocates for these engagements as catalysts for sustainable economic transformation across both regions.

By championing trade and investment while facilitating the transfer of knowledge and sharing market insights, these regions are poised for continuous growth and evolution. This strengthened relationship holds the promise of ushering in new opportunities, creating jobs, and fostering prosperity for the diverse populations it serves. The future is undoubtedly bright for Africa and the Caribbean as they chart a course toward mutual progress and shared success.

Empowering Caribbean Women in Trade: Caribbean Export’s Support for CWIT Awardees

Caribbean Export is pleased to be supporting the Caribbean Women in Trade (CWIT), an organization that officially launched in May 2023. This initiative, established in 2020, serves as a vibrant community for Caribbean women engaged in international trade.

CWIT’s activities are far-reaching and impactful, providing a platform for connections, networking events, and educational seminars. These offerings empower Caribbean women in international trade to foster meaningful relationships and access critical knowledge. The initiative also focuses on mentorship, offering guidance to young and new members, while positioning itself as a significant stakeholder for consultations on trade challenges.

During the CWIT’s notable launch event, prominent figures like Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of WTO, Ms. Pamela Coke-Hamilton of ITC, and Ms. Rebecca Grynspan of UNCTAD addressed critical issues such as access to finance and trade policies, sparking insightful discussions and inspiring members.

“Supporting CWIT is more than a partnership; it’s about committing to elevate women’s role in trade, thereby contributing to a more inclusive and prosperous trade landscape.” emphasized Tonya Cummins, Caribbean Export’s Investment Lead.

Caribbean Export’s agreed to sponsor four CWIT members to participate in one of its programmes allowing these honorees to “pay it forward”. The Agency also welcomed members to the recent ‘Leveraging CARIFORUM Trade Agreements workshop’, conducted in partnership with Republic Bank Trinidad. We also look forward to their participation in the upcoming Caribbean Investment Forum.

This sponsorship aligns with the growing recognition of women’s contributions to the trade sector. Notably, 40% of Caribbean businesses are women-owned.

In essence, the Caribbean Women in Trade initiative signifies empowerment, unity, and progress. With Caribbean Export’s support and sponsorship, the initiative’s impact is set to resonate even more deeply. As we continue this journey, it’s imperative that we recognize the transformative capacity of women in international trade. By championing and supporting initiatives like CWIT, we pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future in the global trade arena.

Adding spice to your life: Bahamian Brand ‘D’Vyanya’s Manufacturing’

In the Bahamas, when you want to add some extra flavour to your meal, there is one homegrown brand that immediately comes to mind – D’Vanya’s.

‘D’Vanya’s Manufacturing’ (formerly D’Vanya’s Spices Ltd) was started more than 25 years ago by entrepreneur Greg Douglas with his brother.

Greg is a well-known Bahamian singer. He was part of two successful groups called Fame and Visage and was regularly touring overseas when he decided to launch a food-related business so his family could be taken care of while he was away. He also wanted to create a brand that was truly Bahamian.

Greg recalls: “Originally, we looked for companies to represent in the Bahamas. One of our first was Grace Foods and we were doing very well. We got a lot of information from selling those items to hotels and food stores, so that’s when we decided to develop our own brand in line with our culture.

“Our very first product was the Junkanoo hot pepper sauce, followed by the Original Bahamaian hot pepper sauce. After that we added the Goombay hot pepper sauce which comes in different colours because of the variation of the peppers. Right now, we make about 47 products.”

D’Vanya’s is currently on offer in hotels, restaurants, and stores in Nassau, but Greg plans to export his products around the rest of the Bahamas and overseas after receiving funds from the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s ‘Direct Support Grant Programme’ (2021).

Greg used the grant to buy new machinery to enhance production and worked with another company to improve D’Vanya’s digital marketing.

Greg says: “Year on year we were doing exceptionally well until 2020, when COVID came, and we suffered quite a loss. In 2021, our sales recovered by about 30% but we’re still not back to the levels we had before, so we were very excited to get the grant.

“We put the money to specific use and ordered new machinery which we’re waiting to receive any day now from China, that will help us scale up for export. We’re expecting our capacity to improve 300-fold with those machines. For instance, right now we produce about 80 to 90 cases of product in a day but with the new machines we’ll be able to do that amount in about two hours.”

Greg works directly with seven local farmers to supply his raw materials and employs three people full-time and one part-time in sales and production. He expects to need more staff if his export ambitions take off.

D’Vanya’s is already represented in North America and Mexico by an agent based in Florida called Silver Bay which manages sales through the company’s e-commerce website. Greg is also talking with a potential distributor in Canada and plans to look for another one in the UK to target Europe.

Greg is even aiming to break into the Chinese market where the D’Vanya’s name has already been trademarked.

“I really would like to get more working capital to hire more people and scale up quickly,” Greg states. “Then I would like to see our sales move from 95% domestic and 5% exports to 50% each which will bring in much needed foreign currency for the company and the country.”

Greg adds: “I also need to look for some land to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility which will require investors. I’m hoping that will be completed in about three to five years.”

In addition, Greg has recently joined with a local grilled food establishment to incorporate D’Vanya’s into its menu and offer the brand’s sauces and seasonings for sale. He is hoping this model can be replicated in other places to show how D’Vanya’s can be used to enhance a wide variety of dishes.

“Who knows,” Greg says, “maybe one day we’ll have a range of cultural events that we can cater for or even a D’Vanya’s franchise like KFC. Once people like the taste, they’ll buy the sauce, because they’ll want it for themselves to take home.”

Caribbean Export Seeks to Advance the Government of Grenada’s Transformational Agenda

Digital transformation, the green economy and the ease of doing business were the focus of discussion earlier this week, when Caribbean Export’s Executive Director Deodat Maharaj and Services Specialist Allyson Francis met with the Hon. Lennox Andrews, Hon. Andy Williams and senior government officials across several portfolios in Grenada.

During the extensive dialogue, Mr. Maharaj underscored the regional Agency’s commitment to strengthening its partnership with Grenada to drive the Government’s transformational agenda in key sectors.

The Caribbean Export executive team also met with several Business Support Organisations and other partners in the private sector to discuss concrete ways to support private sector investment and business development in 2023.

 To address one of the pressing concerns raised during the meeting, Caribbean Export agreed to provide immediate technical support to the creative sector and capacity-building support to the country’s agro-processing sector.  The proposed programming initiatives will better equip the MSMEs to use market intelligence tools, understand exporting requirements and the fundamental nuances of the export market.

Of the short but productive visit to Grenada, Mr. Maharaj expressed his delight in meeting with the government ministers and other partners to agree on concrete ways to strengthen the Agency’s support to private sector development and advance the country’s transformational agenda.

 With an implementation rate of over 85%, Caribbean Export is pillar-assessed and focused on private sector development aligned to key Sustainable Development Goals. The Agency remains a credible implementing partner ready to help drive Caribbean transformation.

Bridging the Gap for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Saint Lucia

The Caribbean Export Development Agency team met with Saint Lucia’s Minister for Commerce, Manufacturing, Business Development, Cooperatives and Consumer Affairs, the Honourable Emma Hippolyte, and stakeholders from Business Support Organisations on July 14, 2022. The in-depth discussions revolved around the execution of capacity-building and technical assistance initiatives Caribbean Export could immediately offer to meet the specific and pressing needs of Saint Lucian MSMEs.

Minister Hippolyte also stated her interest in working closely with Caribbean Export to identify capacity-building programmes to assist firms with export potential, particularly in the agro-processing sector, to bridge the gaps, making them export-ready.

The team recommended several innovative ways to address challenges experienced by firms in meeting the standards and regulatory requirements for exporting.

Minister Hippolyte welcomed the recommendations and expressed appreciation for support provided to the country’s priority sectors and Allyson Francis, Services Specialist at Caribbean Export, reiterated the Agency’s commitment to Saint Lucia’s private sector development.

The team led by Allyson Francis – Services Specialist, included Natasha Edwin-Walcott – Senior Advisor –  Competitiveness & Export Promotion; Mikaela Stoute – Research Officer- Market Intelligence; Marvin Baptiste– Consultant; Tonya Cummins– Programme Advisor- Grants and Deidre Brathwaite– Digital and Social Media Officer.

The Caribbean Export-Saint Lucia mission occurred from July 11-14, 2022.

Regional MSMEs Ready to Leverage CARIFORUM Trade Agreements

More Caribbean business owners are better equipped to leverage CARIFORUM Trade Agreements after an intensive 2-day workshop held by the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) in collaboration with Export Saint Lucia.

Caribbean Export’s Services Specialist Allyson Francis and Sunita Daniel, CEO of Export Saint Lucia, implored the participants to take full advantage of the learning opportunity, which provides critical information to support their business’ access to the United Kingdom and European Union.

The workshop, which included presenters from both Agencies, also drew on the expertise of trade policy professionals from the Delegation of the European Union to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, OECS, CARICOM and CARIFORUM and The Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN).

The participants remarked on the wealth of information shared over July 12 and 13, 2022, noting that the workshop allowed them to understand how the trade agreements work and the requirements to more effectively align their operations to access export opportunities and grow their businesses.

The Caribbean Export-Saint Lucia mission occurred from July 11-14, 2022.

The team led by Allyson Francis – Services Specialist, included Mikaela Stoute – Research Officer- Market Intelligence; Marvin Baptiste– Junior Consultant; Tonya Cummins– Programme Advisor- Grants and Deidre Brathwaite– Digital and Social Media Officer.