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Prosper met Laura Ferguson, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, and lead for the DIT Caribbean team looking after the markets in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines), Guyana and Suriname, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
“So, when you think of the Caribbean, you probably think of sandy beaches, aquiline clear seas and sunshine,” Laura told Prosper, “Yet our group of CARICOM countries increased trade with the UK last year by 12.9% to £2.8bn.
“Of CARICOM, Guyana, still forecast by the IMF to have GDP growth of 51% in 2020, is our largest trading partner accounting for 24.3% of all trade. We saw an increase of 30.3% to £1.5bn of exports, of which £427m were goods and £1.1bn were services.”
The Caribbean offers significant advantages for UK SMEs keen to grow and expand their business opportunities. As a predominantly English-speaking region, it also has similar legal and regulatory frameworks to the UK and the legal practice based on English rule of law.
In addition, the signed EPA in the markets in which they operate will allow for seamless trade between the UK and CARICOM when the UK exits the transition period with the EU.
“UK service suppliers have a strong appeal to countries in the Caribbean due to the UK’s high investments in Research & Development (R&D),” continued Laura, “The UK government’s commitment to dedicate over 2% of GDP to R&D is a major selling point here.
"Like other markets we face stiff competition from the US, Canada, some EU countries and China. While UK business often cannot compete on price, UK service suppliers continue to perform well because of a perceived high-quality in-service expertise.
“Many Caribbean Countries are recipients of development and humanitarian aid programmes funded through International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). These projects and programmes enable commercial opportunities for UK companies to win business.
"Within the English Caribbean, we roughly estimate that there are over £1.6 billion in opportunities in the Aid Funded Business pipeline as a result of projects programmed through the Caribbean Development Bank, World Bank, IDB and the Green Climate Fund.
“We promote these opportunities through our ‘exporting is great’ EIG portal, newsletters and have recently started to deliver webinars to help companies understand more about better responding to the procurement notices arising from IFIs and MDBs.
“While the economic impact of COVID-19 impact on the Caribbean is particularly severe, opportunities are beginning to emerge in response. There is growth in sectors such as E-commerce, digital technology, cybersecurity, agri-processing, healthcare, telemedicine, biotechnology, renewable energy and education.”
Laura concluded, “Focusing on education, we are seeing increased export opportunities for UK education suppliers in TVET, Edtech, Transnational Education and Higher Education Institutions. Ed tech in particular is an area of growth with some governments in the region committing to enhancing vocational training to ensure their labour markets are better equipped to match new and emerging sectors (e.g. renewable energy).
"With the result there are increasing opportunities for skills-based companies and online education business to support the regrowth and development of the Caribbean."