The COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on the private sector and economies globally. The economic slowdown will severely affect MSMEs, as they suffer from the impact of government decreed shutdowns, supply chain disruption and demand contraction. With the containment of the crisis, the recovery phase will commence, and the firms must be ready to take advantage of the turnaround in economic activity but must first deploy business continuity strategies to support their survival.
In our fourth year of implementation of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) Regional Private Sector Development Programme, Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) is forced to re-visit its programme, mode of operation and how it supports the regional private sector in the midst of the crisis.
Caribbean Export, like other organisations across the world, is currently implementing significant changes to the delivery of existing services through the use of technology and exploring what additional services are required by its stakeholders during and post the current crisis. We recognise that whilst many of the challenges at the micro level remain unchanged such as access to finance and access to new markets, they will be significantly more acute and new challenges will emerge. Against this changing landscape we appreciate that the status quo cannot endure.
Caribbean Export in collaboration with the Delegation of the European Union in Barbados will explore a number of initiatives focusing on SME development in response to the current COVID 19 pandemic and the potential adverse effect this will have on regional firms.Â In this regard, a strategic approach has been adopted, in collaboration with the Caribbean Development Bank to conducting two surveys targeting SMEs and Business Support Organisations to collect basic information from key stakeholders to identify the most relevant and effective interventions in a timely manner.Â Further, a grant facility along with other capacity building programmes to be executed will form part of a regional approach to support poverty reduction, economic and social resilience within the Caribbean in response to this global crisis.
Over the next few months Caribbean Export will be providing direct support to firms in collaboration with its strategic partners to ensure companies receive much needed access to finance. Weâ€™ve had to re-think our strategy in order to have a nimbler approach in light of the COVID-19 environment.
Under this direct support programme, firms will be able to apply for a grant to be used for a range of initiatives based on the stakeholder survey currently being conducted.
In addition to access to finance Caribbean Export provides a range of capacity building initiatives which will now be delivered online via webinars and our online e-learning platform. The Agency hosted its first webinar on Thursday 16th April on finance and accounting outsourcing with more to come on stream. The webinar series titled Talking Exports: A Crisis Management Series will include topics such as â€˜Managing cash flow in the COVID-19 environmentâ€™ on 21st April, supply chain management on May 5th, communications coming soon.
The current crisis has resulted in an acceleration of our e-learning focus and the Agencyâ€™s training workshops will be available on the e-learning platform such as the ProNET series, Services Go Global, Intellectual Property and Competitive Intelligence to name a few.
Related to our increased focus on technology as a service delivery mechanism we are also further developing our business to business portal to provide an online space where Caribbean firms can register to interact with buyers and suppliers. The B2B portal allows firms to post their product and service profiles and Caribbean Export will market the platform to regional and international buyers.
The position of the Caribbean in this global environment as the world emerges from this pandemic will be critical. Caribbean Export as the secretariat for the Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (CAIPA) will be embarking on an international marketing and promotions campaign to position the region as a viable location for investment post COVID-19. This will be a vital step in building investor confidence and in re-establishing our region as a prime destination for foreign direct investment (FDI).
The Caribbean is well positioned in proximity to the United States as a nearshore location for business process outsourcing (BPO) firms looking to expand beyond call centers into new growth areas, such as shared services centers, legal process outsourcing, human resources outsourcing, and finance and accounting outsourcing among others.
Outsourcing has been a key area of focus as we implement the Regional Investment Promotion Strategy (RIPS). Given the success and interest attained to date, we continue to believe that the region presents a very compelling case for job creation, particularly among our youth and continued FDI in this area.
In summary, Caribbean Export as it re-focusses its efforts, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, to fulfil the overall objective of the 11th EDF RPSDP of increasing employment creation and inclusiveness, particularly for youth, women and indigenous groups, and overall poverty reduction in CARIFORUM states, the Agency is:
- Adopting a strategic approach to conduct initiatives that focus on SME development in collaboration with the European Union;
- Conducting surveys targeting SMEs and BSOs to identify the most relevant and effective interventions required in collaboration with CDB;
- Providing a direct support programme enabling SMEs to access a grant;
- Delivering capacity building programmes via webinars;
- Embarking on a communications campaign in collaboration with CAIPA to re-establish the Caribbean internationally as a business and tourism destination post COVID-19.
Caribbean Export together with the CARIFORUM Directorate in collaboration with the EU remains committed to the region through this crisis and beyond as we continue to implement the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme.
Officer in Charge – Caribbean Export