Caribbean Export head calls for greater support and recognition of MSMEs

DEODAT Maharaj, executive director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export), has called for greater support and development of micro, small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs), which he says form the backbone of Caribbean economies.

Maharaj, who shared his sentiments ahead of the commemoration of MSME Day celebrated this past Tuesday, said that greater recognition of the contributions of this group must be given since MSMEs account for more than 90 per cent of all businesses and some 70 per cent of jobs globally, based on statistics from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Deodat Maharaj is the Executive Director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency. (Photo: Caribbean Export)

“Right here in the Caribbean MSMEs form the backbone of many of our economies, generating precious jobs and opportunities for our people. According to the Caribbean Development Bank, MSMEs represent between 70-85 per cent of Caribbean businesses and contribute between 60-70 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Critically, they account for an estimated 50 per cent of total employment. Importantly, 40 per cent of Caribbean businesses are owned by women. The success of these enterprises reflects the ingenuity, industry, and innovative spirit of our entrepreneurs,” he said in a recent statement.

The executive director of the Barbados-based organisation shared that in order to build a resilient region where businesses form critical partners, “We would need to ramp up support to the entrepreneurs in micro, small and medium-scale business enterprises.”

Mother and daughter duo (from left) Umeeda and Nareena Switlo are fulfilling their dream by building a social enterprise around a flavourful, healthful product sourced in Belize. (Photo: Caribbean Export)

He reasoned further that amid the ongoing challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, small and vulnerable groups such as the MSMEs require a wide range of financial and other support, including technological advancements.

“The Caribbean Export has already scaled up its support in this area and have seen huge interest on the part of businesses across the region. For example, at our last webinar on e-commerce in February 2021, we had over 400 participants from across the Caribbean. This shows the eagerness of our firms to take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology to help grow their businesses,” he stated.

A previous staging of Food Matters Live (Photo courtesy of Caribbean Export Development Agency)

He further called on governments to create the right policy environment and incentives, along with large corporations including financial institutions, to provide the right balance in enabling growth and development of this small but powerful sector. “It is in everyone’s interest for micro, small and medium-scale enterprises to succeed”, he added.

Maharaj, who also bemoaned the high cost of energy in the region, cited this issue as one which continues to stifle the sector’s growth, driving up the cost of production and making it difficult for them to be competitive when exporting.

“We at Caribbean Export are working closely with MSMEs across the region to help them enhance energy efficiency and, as a result, make them more competitive. However, we need to do this on a scale that can have a transformational impact. The reality is that we are not there yet. Allocating the requisite resources to reduce energy costs with the twin advantage of tackling climate action must be a high priority at the national level,” he said.

The Caribbean Export head indicated that a recent partnership with the International Trade Centre to establish a hub for trade in sustainable products is one of the solutions developed to bolster competitiveness. “We are keen to help Caribbean businesses take advantage of this opportunity. Going forward, it is important to partner with business support organisations, not only in Europe but also in other premium markets to get our products on the shelves to attract the expanding customer base for products that meet ‘sustainability’ criteria.”