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Launching of Caribbean Regional HRD Program for Economic Competitiveness - November 29, 1999

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Feature Address by the Honourable Prime Minister of Saint Lucia

Dr. Kenny D. Anthony

On the Occasion of the Launching of

The Caribbean Regional HRD Program for Economic Competitiveness

St. Lucia - November 29, 1999

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Salutations...

INTRODUCTION

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a very special occasion for the OECS and a proud moment for St. Lucia. I say so because in many respects, this is the manifestation of many months of hard work by a network of regional, sub-regional and Canadian players involved in the design, elaboration and initiation of this vital project. I believe also, that this project is all the more significant because it heralds something of a renaissance in bilateral assistance to the region.

Moreover, it is a significant investment in our relationship with a longstanding development partner. That partner is Canada. The partnership of which I speak extends to other Canadian-funded projects based in St. Lucia. These include projects in the areas of Education Reform, Environment Protection, and Trade Policy. Let me therefore start this address, by congratulating all those whose creative foresight and energies have combined to bring this moment to life.

DEFINING THE COLLABORATION

My own involvement in the elaboration of this project peaked on August 13th 1998. On that day, I signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of St. Lucia and the Government of Canada, detailing the Caribbean Regional Human Resource Development (HRD) Program for Economic Competitiveness. That agreement enables St. Lucia to access the development assistance made available to the region through the CPEC project.

Since then, much work has been done to bring the project to the point where it is resident in St. Lucia and where the Economic Planning Unit of the Ministry of Finance and Planning is the designated coordinating authority for the Program in St. Lucia. We take it as a gesture of confidence that this Caricom-wide program has been headquartered in Castries. We are equally pleased that the project will work closely with national agencies in developing specific interventions.

PROJECT FOCUS

As many of you would be aware, the goal of the CPEC Program is to strengthen the capacity of the Caribbean Region to compete in the global economy. The explicit intention is to achieve this through human resource and institutional development. Even while we are grappling with internal issues like poverty, governance, and social reform, International Competitiveness must remain a key component of St. Lucia's development agenda. It remains the measure of our ability to command space within the global marketplace and it is the economic attribute which allows us to earn our way in the world. With an eye on the future we are optimistic that this project recognises the comparative advantage which the OECS has in developing internationally competitive service sectors.

It is also noteworthy that the project has a predominantly private sector focus. Indeed, the stated purpose of CPEC is to improve through HRD, the capacity of private sector firms, non-government organizations and public sector institutions. More specifically, it seeks to improve economic competitiveness while facilitating capacity development within selected academic institutions and coordinating bodies in the Caricom region.

It seems appropriate therefore, that having set the programatic parameters, the project is inviting existing stakeholders to fashion and forward for consideration, projects of their own design and making. It is more than mere coincidence that this approach mirrors that adopted by St. Lucia's own Private Sector Development Strategy which will implement its objectives with the active involvement of principal private sector institutions. In both cases, this approach is commendable, as it utilises existing institutional capacity and devolves substantial responsibility for project formulation to key players themselves.

RESOURCE MOBILISATION

This Project will mobilize some CDN$25 million in support of the objectives mentioned earlier. These resources will benefit all the Member States of the OECS with a global allocation of $9.7 million. The other beneficiary countries are Guyana and Jamaica with allocations of $5 million each. The remaining $5.3 million is set aside for supporting initiatives by regional private sectors, non-governmental and public sector entities.

Resource allocation is also guided by the designation of certain sectors deemed to have favourable potential for building international competitiveness. These sectors are expected to act as lead sectors or engines of growth, consistent with the economic realities within OECS economies. The sectors in question are: Tourism, Financial Services, Agriculture and Construction. We feel that these sectors represent an appropriate mix of production capacity in goods as well as services. We are particularly pleased that the proposed transformation of these four sectors complements the Medium Term Economic Strategy developed by the Government of St. Lucia.

COMMON GROUND AND COUNTRY BENEFITS

To speak more specifically on the location of the Program's Headquarters here in St. Lucia, we feel that this is a plus for the program as for the region. Given that the target market will be OECS firms, institutions and sectors, the location close to the that market seems very appropriate. We feel also that there is an increasing synergy between OECS economies at sectoral and policy levels. This provides valuable opportunities for the optimisation of program resources. Moreover, it provides for the ready transposition of lessons learned from one country environment to the next. We therefore anticipate improved opportunities for coordinating developmental services to the private sector, and complementing these with national economic strategies.

Speaking nationally, this program - with its private sector thrust - closely resembles the logic of restructuring and modernising initiatives being taken at domestic level. These include the ongoing transformation at our National Development Corporation, with its emphasis on investment incentives. The program is also highly compatible with our efforts at strengthening small and medium scale enterprises. Examples of this are reflected in the work of the Small Enterprises Development Unit (SEDU) within the Ministry of Commerce.

The work of the Office of Private Sector Relations will no doubt, also share common ground with CPEC. Indeed, I would urge cooperation on specifics such as the ISO Certification initiative currently being discussed by that office and the Ministry of Commerce. More precisely, I would like to suggest that both programs could combine efforts to improve access by OECS companies to other regional and international development resources.

No doubt, we will also see some direct benefits such as the employment of nationals as staff and business consultants. I mention this latter category because the development of a market for professional business services is key to improving the management and production capacities of smaller companies. Of similar importance will be the exposure of local businesses to Canadian technical expertise. We have always felt an affinity with our Canadian partners in such areas and look forward to their professional input.

We also feel that this process, centered as it is within the OECS, will help inform the body of knowledge about the development process in smaller states of the Caribbean. There is an urgent need to consolidate and render more self-sustaining, mechanisms which provide equitable representation of the interests and needs of OECS entrepreneurs. We therefore welcome this opportunity to contribute to this process of acknowledgement and understanding.

THE BROADER PERSPECTIVE

While we are singularly pleased, that does not hinder our broader regional perspective. In assessing the significance of this initiative, we recognize the tremendous economic and social benefits that this initiative offers to CARICOM. We recognize for example, the distinct preoccupation of the designers and funders of CPEC with the crucial issue of economic competitiveness for the region as a whole. Clearly, the emphasis bears repeating: if we do not rearrange our thinking, our practices and our approach to business, we will not survive as independent or interdependent economies in the new globalism defining internal and external markets.

Bluntly put, with respect to productivity and costs, regional companies must operate at the same level of technical and economic efficiency as their international rivals. They must for example, be in a position to offer comparable terms of sale as relates to warranties, product liability, and post sales service. Competitiveness in this sense must extend to compliance with similar standards, best practices and regulations of the marketplace.

Operating environments must be on par with that of our rivals. By this I refer to physical and institutional infrastructure. I also imply consistent macro-economic environments, trade and sectoral policies; business related legislation, regulatory frameworks and technical support facilities.

ACKNOWLEDGING BILATERAL ASSISTANCE

We acknowledge as small island states, that we will continue to negotiate the boundaries of our external environments with international agencies like the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, and the IMF. But we also acknowledge and applaud the vital role of friendly governments in helping to reshape our internal economic spaces. This we must continue to do in order to adjust to global realities. In that sense therefore, focused initiatives like CPEC, enable us to achieve that necessary adjustment in several vital areas.

These areas include:

bulletEfficiency in the use of human and financial resources
bulletImproved product and service quality
bulletDevelopment of high-end, technology-based products and markets
bulletIncreased worker productivity, and...
bulletAppropriate cost reduction and increased profitability.

Ultimately, these attributes combine to contribute to other growth- producing opportunities including import replacement, greater market share, improved trade balances and self-sustainable GNP growth.

PRIVATE SECTOR RESPONSIVENESS

In all this, the response of the private sector is key. Proposals for the effective use of these opportunities must emanate from companies. The program provides scope for them to act individually or via private sector institutions acting collectively on their behalf. However access is conceived, initiatives for upgrading plant and equipment to meet new market opportunities cannot be orchestrated by Governments. This is the purview of private enterprise.

Similarly, there must be a culture of spending more on "people in business". If our people are our greatest resource - as we so often say - then human resource development and human resource management must be the way to the future. There is perhaps a lesson to be learned here from our pubic sectors. It is governments, which have traditionally invested, in the continuous training and retraining of human talent. To so extent the private sector has fed of this tradition. But the time has come for private sectors to find innovative ways of initiating such training if they are to be masters of their collective fates. Moreover, if this project is to be truly demand driven, I urge all potential beneficiaries to frame appropriate responses to this generous program and seize the opportunities which it presents to our firms, our economies, and to our region.

CONCLUSION

In closing, let me say that our Cabinet of Ministers has reviewed the Memorandum of understanding and the related Management Plan for this CPEC project. We have approved all the necessary facilities to support the smooth implementation of the Program by the St. Lucia-based Regional Office.

Additionally, as of October 1999, Cabinet appointed a CPEC Coordinating Committee comprising representatives of key ministries. These comprise,
within the Ministry of Finance & Planning, the Customs Department and the Development Cooperation and Program Planning Section. The Coordinating Committee also includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Ministry of Education Human Resource Development, Youth and Sports. I therefore take this opportunity to thank all those persons who have been - and who will continue to be - directly and indirectly involved in the gestation and realisation of this project.

DECLARATION

Finally, it is my distinct honour to be allowed, on behalf of the people and governments of the participating countries, to officially launch the CPEC Regional Office, and the OECS component of the Caribbean Regional Human Resources Development Program for Economic Competitiveness.

I thank you.

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