HARNESSING the creativity of Saint Lucians and equipping them with knowledge about the business environment and skills that will allow them to transform their instinctive passion into lucrative business ventures is the focal point of this year’s Business Month, which officially began on Tuesday.
Through the chosen theme, “Your Passion, Your Business”, the Department of Commerce and its affiliate agencies are hoping to “foster innovation, diversity and out-of-the-box creativity, especially among the youth.”
Heavy focus is expected to be placed on the value of entrepreneurship as a way of stimulating economic growth, as well as reducing unemployment, enhancing competitive advantage, increasing trade in local goods and services, attracting investment and building a more robust, globally-competitive economy.
During the official opening of Business Month held on Tuesday at GIS Studios, the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector came under the microscope as an area that will be targeted for special attention. According to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the sector makes up between 70% and 85% of Caribbean business enterprises, contributing between 60% and 70% of gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for almost 50% of employment.
“This suggests that MSMEs are in fact the backbone of our economy and it is important that we nurture them by giving them the necessary tools and support to enable them to grow through productivity-enhancing innovation to become globally competitive,” Bradly Felix, Minister for Commerce, International Trade, Investment, Enterprise Development and Consumer Affairs, said at the opening ceremony.
Felix said that with barriers to trade in goods and services being reduced following the introduction of globalization, trade and investment liberalization, MSMEs require the market intelligence to capitalize on preferential market access opportunities via multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements of which Saint Lucia is a signatory.
“To achieve this, we need more of our entrepreneurs and service suppliers to start thinking beyond domestic supply and to utilize the provisions of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, such as the Right of Establishment and Free Movement of Services regimes as they look to expand their business operations,” Felix noted. “Our Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) has the capacity to prepare and guide entrepreneurs on accessing the regional market.”
Felix added: “Even more importantly, we need our entrepreneurs to utilize the market entry provisions of the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement as they scout internationally for market opportunities. Our Export Handbook and the resources of our Trade Export Promotion Agency (TEPA) have all the available resources to allow our MSMEs to access the global village.”
Meanwhile, Saint Lucia-based manufacturer, Baron Foods Ltd, recently signed a contract for the first container shipment of condiments and sauces to Cuba. The company, which has won many local, regional and international accolades for its wide range of spices and condiments, also hopes to manufacture its products on the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island soon.
A month-long roster of activities has been designed to expose MSMEs to contemporary business practices, including digital marketing, e-commerce mechanisms, standards and technical regulations, trade and investment opportunities, and financial literacy to help them overcome challenges and remain competitive.
Director of the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards (SLBS), Dr.Mkabi Walcott, said that high standards remain critical towards enhancing business linkages and building brand awareness for Saint Lucian products and services. She said the SLBS will continue to ensure that businesses use and adhere to applicable standards as compliance with standards as a prerequisite for entry into local and international markets.
Dr. Walcott said enhancing developmental impact (positively impacting economic growth via trade facilitation, industry and commerce, and strengthening the national focus for standards and quality) and enhancing client value (via information, certification, metrology services, standards, standards enforcement, protection from fraudulent measurement), remain SLBS’ role as part of government’s broader objectives for economic development.
“The work of the Bureau will also be supported by related interventions of the Department of Commerce, International Trade, Investment, Enterprise Development and Consumer Affairs and the Trade Export Development Agency (TEPA) as we embark on helping the economy to grow a productive base and facilitate employment,” Dr. Walcott said on Tuesday. “With the creation of a responsive national and regional quality infrastructure, Saint Lucia will be able to strengthen the confidence of our trading partners, markets and consumers of our products and services.”
Among the events planned for this year’s Business Month are a Finance and Equity Symposium Business Finance Workshop (today), Open Panel Discussion: “There is Something New Under The Sun” (tomorrow), The Business of Farming seminar (November 8), Monroe College vs. National Youth Council’s debate on “CIP is the answer to stagnated foreign direct investment” (November 10), Secondary Schools Debate – The Present School Curriculum Effectively Prepares Students To Be Successful Entrepreneurs” (November 16) and Saint Lucia-Taiwan Partnership Trade Show (November 25-27).