Published: Monday, November 14, 2022
By Shawn Cumberbatch

Private sector firms in Barbados and 11 other English-speaking Caribbean countries are just scratching the service of their services and goods trade potential with the United States (US). They are also likely to be missing out on increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) from the US, which is the region’s biggest trading partner. Having reached these conclusions, US-based trade expert and attorney, Andrea M. Ewart, is advising the region to take concrete steps to resolve the shortcomings, including by the Caribbean private sector becoming engaged in helping to drive the implementation of key actions recommended by her. 

Ewart, who operates from Washington, DC, was commissioned by the University of the West Indies’ Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy and Services (SRC) and the United States Embassy to produce the study “Increasing The Participation Of The Caribbean Private Sector in Caribbean-US. Engagements”. She found that “while the US geographic proximity is a draw, for many of the region’s exporters its market size and complexity are challenging”. 

Preferential Access 

She said that perhaps as a result of this, despite having preferential access, Caribbean goods exports into the US are highly concentrated across a few products and countries. Thousands of qualifying goods from CARICOM countries benefit from preferential access into the US market under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) and Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act – known collectively as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). However, the trade expert noted that goods exports from CARICOM countries into the US were highly concentrated across products and countries. 

“The top five U.S. imports under CBI have been petroleum oils and methanol from Trinidad & ‘Tobago (and moat recently Guyana); cotton T-shirts and sweaters of manmade fibers from Haiti; and expandable polystyrene from The Bahamas,” she said. 

“In 2020, the petroleum and methanol products represented 64 per cent of total US imports under CBI with apparels from Haiti coming in second at 42 per cent (T-shirts alone were 24 per cent of total US imports). 

Outside of goods trade, the researcher pointed out that access into the US services market “is hampered by state-based certification requirements”, while the region’s FDI inflows “have slowed to a trickle”. 

Government Take Lead 

The head of DevelopTradeLave LLC said that while these deficits should provide adequate incentive -for increased engagement, this was not the case. “Private sector representatives contacted for the [research] paper reiterated that governments take the lead on such matters and the private sector steps in when invited to the table; Ewart said. “Meanwhile, there is little evidence that the region’s governments, and with private sector institutions following their lead, pay adequate attention to the frameworks and mechanisms facilitating the Caribbean-US trading relationships or to mechanisms which can strengthen or improve them.” 

She also said that existing mechanisms for private sector engagement around Caribbean-US trading relationships were underutilised, adding that “with a few notable exceptions, the region’s private sector entities also make ineffective use of the networks and platforms to which they do have access in attempting to drive more trade with the US”. 

Ewart made a number of recommendations to improve the situation. 

To address barriers to goods trade, she advised that ongoing delivery of seminars and webinars to increase private sector awareness of CBERA benefits and how to use them effectively; and creation of mechanism to facilitate ready access to product-specific entry requirements should be prioritised. To improve trade in services, Ewart said the priorities should include improving data collection on the services sector; enhancing the role of relevant associations in establishing and enforcing minimum requirements which meet or approximate international standards merits ongoing attention; and finding solutions to provide for portability of professional qualifications. 

Her advice in relation to increased FDI was for increased private-sector engagement. This specifically involved business representatives becoming active and engaged in the Americas Business Dialogue (ABD) to which many Caribbean business support organisations already belong; and using the ABD network to organise business-to-business engagements to explore shared interests that could lead to partnerships and collaboration. 

Mechanism for Engagement 

Ewart also suggested mechanisms on private sector engagement in US-CARICOM discussions. “The private sector can assume a similar leadership role in directly engaging within the ABD network, of which they are already members, on the priority issues they have identified for this paper,” she said. “The ABD provides an existing mechanism for engagement within the Summit of the Americas process, as well as a model for engagement at the bilateral level in the context of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreements TIFA.” 

Ewart added: “Working through the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation or another regional entity place on the agenda of [the CARICOM] Council for Trade and Economic Development the urgent need for private sector engagement in the TIC (Trade and Investment Council) process; and initiate a consultative process aimed at providing private sector input for TIC meetings. She also said an important next step “is to begin to present the findings of this report and its recommendations so the private sector can be sensitised and begin to focus on their role in advancing the above solutions”. 

Ewart’s research will be the focus of an SRC Lunch Time Chat on US-Caribbean Relations: Increasing Private Sector Engagement. Scheduled for December 1, the event is intended to “gain the regional private sector’s views on next steps for US-Caribbean private sector engagement and to share the findings and recommendations” of Ewarts’s study.

Ewart’s presentation of her research findings and recommendations will be followed by a private sector roundtable discussion involving Vashti Guyadeen (chief executive officer (CEO) of the Trinidad & Tobago Coalition of Services Industries, Trisha Tennis (chairman, Barbados Private Sector Association), Nirad Tewarie (CEO, American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago), and Gordon Charles, president of the Organisation for Eastern Caribbean States Business Council and CEO of JQ Charles Group of Companies Ltd. The session will be moderated by the SRC’s junior research fellow, Alicia Nicholls. 


Andrea Ewart

Andrea Ewart

I am a seasoned international trade and customs attorney, and policy adviser for various companies and governments with a demonstrated history of successfully developing and implementing sustainable and dynamic trade programs. I am experienced in creating partnerships with various business-support organizations to drive compliance and growth in the international market.