Address by Hon. Philip J. Pierre the Meeting of Caribbean Small Business Entrepreneurs, Organizations and Agencies - 3 April 2002
Address by Hon. Philip J. Pierre Minister for Commerce, Tourism Investment and Consumer Affairs at the Meeting of Caribbean Small Business Entrepreneurs, Organizations and Agencies Rex St. Lucian Hotel April 3rd 2002
Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me take the opportunity afforded by this opening ceremony, in my capacity as Minister of Tourism, to welcome to St. Lucia all our guests attending this first meeting of Caribbean Small Business Entrepreneurs, Organizations and Agencies.
It is my hope that you will find time to savour the many attractions in St. Lucia, as well as the hospitality and warmth of our people in an island once referred to as the most beautiful. place in the world.
St. Lucia is proud to be hosting this event as Government sees this as another vital opportunity to move closer to the realization of the shared dream of regional economic integration and consolidate partnership with institutions like the European Union.
It was the American Economist Schumacker who, in his book “Small is Beautiful” postulated that there are advantages and strengths to be derived from smallness. However, even in this gathering we have to define what exactly we mean by small. Mr. Chairman, a small business in the OECS may not be the same as a small business in Latin America. Nevertheless we all share the same problems and challenges regardless of our location. We experience a constant battle with the reality of globalisation and the threats of marginalisation caused by the strategic linkages and alliances being forged by larger firms and the multi-nationals of the developed world.
It is my belief Mr. Chairman, that there is a role for small business in the Caribbean and with creative and strategic thinking we can survive in our smallness. Until recent times, the bulk of our foreign exchange was derived from the export of bananas cultivated mainly by small business. This is tangible proof of success, but also a painful example of the realities of the pain that can be inflicted on a small economy by the evolution of globalisation and free trade.
It is not a coincidence that this conference on Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Development in the Caribbean is taking place against a background of a number of initiatives in the region geared towards the process of deepening economic integration.
The initiative towards the establishment of the CARICOM Single market and Economy is at an advanced stage and when concluded will significantly enhance the size of the market available to small and micro producers.
In addition, CARICOM has negotiated Free Trade Agreements with the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Colombia all geared towards increasing market access for regional producers. These steps are necessary and indeed critical if we are to survive in this increasingly competitive world, characterized by increased trade liberalization and globalization of markets.
Recognising the role that small business must play in economic development The Government of St. Lucia is creating the mechanisms and institutional framework for facilitating the evolution of a strong and vibrant SME Sector.
We attempted to classify the SME sector by enacting special legislation called the “Small and Micro Business Act” Another critical component of the Government’s intervention has been the development of a National Industrial Policy for St. Lucia. This policy blueprint was developed through extensive consultation with public and private sector interests. It outlines the role that the small business sector can play within the context of St. Lucia’s manufacturing environment. The Industrial policy is market driven and seeks to provide an enabling environment that will enable businesses to take full advantage of existing strengths and opportunities and add greater value to domestic manufacture through the use of local inputs. The handicraft sector is highlighted as an area where linkages can be created and the quality of life of rural folk enhanced.
The Government recognizes that the development of the small and micro business sector requires a policy environment that facilitates small business investment. Fiscal realities do not permit the required level of direct financial investment,. Despite these constraints, Government has provided approximately $35M over the last four (4) years in the form of direct credit to SME. Indirect investment in the development of SME is made through generous incentive programmes offered to these enterprises.
It is well understood that the provision of technical assistance services at the firm level must be an integral part of this intervention. In that regard, measures are currently being pursued to transform SEDU (our specialist small business agency) into a private-sector oriented company. I want to again thank the European Union for financing SEDU and hope that we can get further assistance in our successor programmes.
This transition forms the basis for ensuring greater sustainability in the sector. The new entity to be called the Small Enterprise Development Company (SEDCO), will expand its scope of operation and provide the full range of business support services required by the small and micro enterprise sector. In anticipation of this expanded role, SEDU recently established a strategic alliance with the Caribbean Technological Consultancy Services (CTCS) of the Caribbean Development Bank, under which SEDU will act as the national inquiry point for CTCS services in St. Lucia.
Mr. Chairman, there is no sympathy in the real world for SME. The provision of training and the use of enabling and appropriate technology must be a priority for these organisations.
In St. Lucia over 500 small business entrepreneurs have been trained in Small Business Management, Computer aided Small Business Management, Financial Management, Product Development and Marketing Techniques. SEDU’s training programme is aimed at supporting the individual firms to strive for improved competitiveness in areas such as:
• Quality and standards • Innovation in product and process • Application of appropriate technology • Improvement in productivity • marketing
Further, we have strengthened the Bureau of Standards not only as a regulator, but as a facilitator to ensure quality and standards for our small business sector.
Mr. Chairman, the underlying premise under which this conference is being held is the recognition that there is a role for small business in our region. That view is emphasised by the fact that the many experts gathered here come from various backgrounds and will all share their knowledge with practitioners in the field – people who have hands-on knowledge and experience. This is valuable and the discussion will prove that the lines between practice and theory may not be as definitive as some may think.
Mr. Chairman, the people of our region have a strong tradition of entrepreneurship The village shop, the producer of local jams or jellies, the vegetable farmer, the local baker are fine examples of that tradition. Further, most of the large firms in the region have evolved from small, family owned business. This rich tradition must be sustained through innovation, creativity and co-operation. I am aware that there are cries and appeals for protection from small business. These legitimate demands are frustrated by a world trading system, through a series of complex rules and regulations dictated by an organisation called the WTO. This system purports to create a level playing field for world trade – the question remains How can there be a level playing field for unequal partners? Our task as policymakers must be to ensure that we make maximum use and agitate for the rightful distinction to be made in the economies of the developed and developing world.
I will be naïve if I say that the road ahead will be easy. Recent events have shown that small economies will find it increasingly difficult to receive special treatment but can we surrender to the scourge of poverty and degradation? Our people have shown that they can fight adversity – our small business can do the same. Conferences like these provide the medium for discussions that must be translated into solutions and direct benefit. I am sure that at the end of this meeting workable solutions will be found for small business survival. I am impressed by the partnership demonstrated by all the agencies and in particular, ECLAC, the European Union and Copperaziane Italiana. On behalf of the Government of St. Lucia, I thank you for your interest. I wish you success in your deliberations and look forward to the conclusions.
I thank you.
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