The CSME remains a work in progress. Designed to let the region capitalise on its natural, human and financial resources, its potential remains mostly untapped. Two Trinidad-based firms, Karibbean Flavours and Guardian Life, explain the impact that the CSME has been having on their regional businesses
by Sasha Murray
Published in CONTACT Magazine
The slow progress of CSME integration “has resulted in a decline in economic benefits and trade performance in the region when compared with the 1970s,” according to panellists at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Held earlier this year in April, the theme of the AGM’s lunchtime discussion was the CSME.
So the recommendation made by the Caricom Review Commission in its 2017 report – to amend the treaty governing Caricom to institutionalise the involvement of the private sector – is welcome. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who has lead responsibility for the CSME within Caricom, has also made it clear that she accepts the change: the private sector will have an integral part to play.
In the business world, the hope is that this enhanced role will finally result in the full integration of the single market and economy. Better access to wider markets, a larger consumer base, increased economies of scale, enhanced investment opportunities, and increased competitiveness, are all keenly anticipated.
To underline the importance of accelerating CSME’s evolution, let’s examine the experience of two Trinidad and Tobago-based companies: RHS Marketing Limited’s Karibbean Flavours brand, and Guardian Life of the Caribbean Limited.
Karibbean Flavours: CSME helped grow our intra- and extra-regional imports
Since 1996, Ravi Sankar, founder of RHS Marketing Limited, has been manufacturing and distributing a wide range of premium seasonings, spices, condiments, drinks, essences and browning products under the Karibbean Flavours brand. Many of the products have their roots in the region’s exotic cuisine and reflect a com-bination of cultures and tastes.
The CSME has worked well for his company, Sankar says, helping it to grow from a local supplier to a regional exporter. Starting with a small shipment to Antigua, Karibbean Flavours now has a presence on store shelves in several Caricom countries, including Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana and Suriname.
“Regional distributors found it economical to purchase from us under the CSME, as compared to the United States, because there were no taxes on imports from Trinidad and Tobago. Through the certifying body in Trinidad we were able to get Caricom certificates for all the products we produce, and this made it attractive for buyers.”
When supply is not available locally, Karibbean Flavours has also benefitted from duty-free access to ingredients such as pepper and thyme, sometimes at lower prices.
The process is not without its challenges, however. Sankar explains that, when shipping products, he sometimes experiences difficulties in obtaining the relevant documents on time from customs and excise. The delays result in added costs for storage, among other things.
Karibbean Flavours products can also be found beyond the Caribbean, in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Sankar says that having a regional presence has helped the firm expand internationally. “With our brand well represented in Caricom, it is easier for diaspora and tourist consumers who reside in international markets to recognise it.”
Guardian Life: a fully implemented CSME benefits everyone
Guardian Life is a dynamic insurance and financial institution which provides financial services across four major territories in the English and Dutch Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados. Established in1980, with head offices in Westmoorings, Trinidad, Guardian Life is engaged in underwriting all classes of long-term individual and group life, health and pensions insurance business, as well as associated investment activities.
“As a pan-Caribbean group, we are starting to see the impact of regional integration, where our customers’ behaviours are changing. For example, if customers from Jamaica have a policy in Trinidad, they want to know more about how we effect these transactions. So it’s really about having the framework in place, to allow the free movement of people and the free movement of business to grow, and have greater access to markets and greater convenience.” Pascal also notes that, even though “we all have very common backgrounds, there are multiple regulators with multiple financial standards to be dealt with.”
While hoping that ongoing work will yield tangible CSME benefits for all, “we’d like to see some real initiatives come out of it, that make the ease of doing business across the region better and that will ultimately benefit the populations as a whole. Where we realise investment opportunities through expanded markets. This could only redound to everyone’s benefit in the long run: governments, policy holders, and the organisations in between.