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It is a great pleasure to be here this evening to share in the celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.
I thank your President and the wider membership of the Chamber for providing me with this opportunity to interact with the movers and shakers in this vibrant community.
I am particularly grateful for your willingness to adjust the date for this Banquet in the light of conflicting invitations extended to me on the date you had previously scheduled.
This made me determined to honour my commitment to be with you despite the attempts of a most powerful lady called Wilma who seemed for a while to be about to prevent us from celebrating tonight.
In Jamaica, she lingered for five days, causing severe flooding and leaving behind a heavy bill to repair the damage which we have not yet been able to assess. I suspect she decided to spare your islands as she may have figured that you had been so totally exposed to the wrath and fury of her brother Ivan, last year.
I must congratulate you on the successful recovery you have made from Ivan’s unwelcome visit. It is good to see the speed and extent of your recovery from that devastation and that you are back in business in every sense of the word. Jamaica and the Cayman Islands have far more in common than our proximity and our presence in the hurricane zone.
Many of you may not realize that the Cayman Islands were at one time an overseas extension of the local government of the parish of Westmoreland in Jamaica. Since the constituency I have represented these many years is in that parish, chances are I could have been your Member of Parliament if history had taken a different turn! Let me quickly assure you that I have not come here with any territorial claims in mind or with nostalgic temptations.
Our two countries share a unity of experience and history that has created a strong bond between us. This connection has not been severed despite Jamaica’s Independence since 1962.
The people of the Cayman Islands have always enjoyed their own distinctive characteristics.
These have become even more evident by economic growth of the Islands and its worthwhile recognition as a major centre for international banking and business conglomerates.
I need not remind this audience of the many Jamaicans who practice their professions here and contribute immensely to the progress of this territory.
Our two countries also enjoy a thriving trading relationship. Cayman is an important market for Jamaican products – mainly food, beverages and chemicals, while Cayman provides us with a range of special goods.
The phenomenon of globalisation and the attendant challenges it presents for small economies such as those in the Caribbean has led to new links between our two countries and the other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Given our small size, resource and capacity constraints, and the formation of regional trading blocs around the world, the islands of the Caribbean have recognised the critical importance of closer regional cooperation.
The Cayman Islands have enjoyed associate membership of CARICOM since May 2002. This association has proved to be of mutual benefit as the CARICOM framework has enabled full and associate members, as well as observers, to contribute to enhanced functional cooperation and decision-making in the promotion of our common interests.
Irrespective of our political or economic status, we have common challenges and concerns which require us to be on the same team.
In pursuit of our regional interests, CARICOM is engaged in multilateral negotiations within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Free Trade Area of The Americas (FTAA) and the ACP-EU economic partnership agreements. While Cayman’s political status precludes your pr4sence at these negotiating tables, you are profoundly affected by the outcomes.
The region is also pursuing a number of bilateral free trade agreements with countries in the hemisphere as a means of expanding the scope for market access for our goods and services, as well as furthering opportunities for employment and wealth creation.
More fundamentally, efforts are well advanced with regard to the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market And Economy (CSME). The CSME will provide the critical mass for the expansion of the trade in goods and services across the entire region.
I encourage you all, as members of the Chamber, to examine the scope for your involvement in the CSME process even as it is recognized that you participate largely as associate members of CARICOM.
In the evolving international environment for trade, it is recognised that we are engaged in an ongoing struggle to preserve the policy space for meeting our development objectives, even as we witness the erosion of the preferential arrangements for our traditional exports such as bananas, sugar, rum and rice, particularly in European markets.
We are summoned to find niche areas in which we can successfully engage in a competitive global environment.
As savvy businesspersons, you must recognise that irrespective of their many other talents and responsibilities, governments do not engage in trade. It is businesses that do.
Governments are obliged to provide the requisite enabling environment within which the private sector can contribute to the process of regional growth and development. We have to lead the overall thrust to enhance competitiveness for goods and services.
At the same time, private sector enterprises must remember that when trading and other economic arrangements are being concluded, the inputs of the business community are critical. It is vital that the private sector insert its particular perspectives and positions as effectively as possible in the Region’s negotiations agenda.
Associations such as the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce must, therefore, play a greater role in understanding and influencing the various institutional arrangements within CARICOM, the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the World Trade Organisation processes. What are some of the strategies that must be employed in the quest to become competitive in the current trading environment? How might associations like yours afford your members the opportunity to become more competitive?
A critical requirement is the need for the building of alliances at the regional and multilateral levels. Regional enterprises must seek to identify niche markets for goods and services, given that our small size makes it difficult to compete on the basis of price and volume.
It is clear that the Cayman Islands have long adopted this principle with the focus on the highly successful development of your tourism and financial services sectors.
The recent entry into your financial services sector of one of Jamaica’s leading corporations is a most positive trend, which I would like to see replicated.
I refer to the establishment of the Grace Caribbean Fixed Income Fund, which is listed on your stock exchange. This Fund utilises Cayman as the administrative centre to mobilise capital from Caribbean nationals all over the world, as Cayman is recognised as meeting all the legislative and regulatory standards of the countries of residence of investors in the Fund. The funds are utilised for investment in foreign debt in Caribbean countries including Jamaica, at rates that are becoming more attractive.
Businesses must also adopt a renewed focus on diversification both within and across sectors.
It is also imperative to foster the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. In light of the relative scarcity of capital and financial support for enterprise development across the region, institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce must perform an intermediary role in terms of facilitating contact between small entrepreneurs and potential sources of venture capital for business development. This will promote the prospects for trade diversification and the expansion of the economic base.
Moreover, greater attention must be paid to the human resource development component of the production equation. The new global environment calls for highly trained and skilled personnel who are readily adaptable to change and who display a high capacity for innovation. Advances in technology and the flow of information have resulted in a global economy which is knowledge driven and less dependent on trade in commodities.
Even though the Caribbean has demonstrated a level of comparative advantage in certain sectors such as tourism, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We must continuously engage in a process of training and retraining at all levels, if we are to remain competitive.
This is particularly important for tourism, which is extremely vulnerable to external shocks and must rely on the resilience of the labour force to sustain it during major events such as natural disasters.
We must exploit to the fullest, and rigorously protect the unique resource with which we have been abundantly blessed – the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Instead of each trying to secure a thin slice of a small cake, let us endeavour to create a partnership that promotes the Caribbean as a destination with its variety of culture, scenic beauty, attractions and a bigger clientele with differing incomes and tastes. Why should we not develop our cruise shipping and destinations of choice as the Buccaneers did centuries ago?
In closing, I would like to commend the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce for its sterling contribution to the process of economic and social development at the national level.
I am aware that the Chamber is responsible for the staging of an annual Business Expo, which provides a showcase for local goods and services. This might be an additional avenue for the forging of alliances where select exhibitors from across the region could be encouraged to participate and contribute to the scope and diversity of what is on offer.
The international environment is fraught with challenges that seriously test the capacity of small economies such as those in the Caribbean.
Jamaica is obliged to respect the decision of any Administration, dependent or sovereign, to impose those immigration measures which it considers justified.
We will also insist, that once our citizens gain lawful entry, they are not subject to discriminatory treatment in any form or of any kind.
I trust everyone will accept that Jamaica is also entitled to review our own entry conditions, particularly with respect to nationals of countries which are seeking to impose new visa requirements on our citizens.
I want to reiterate Jamaica’s firm commitment to fostering and deepening its traditional “good neighbourly” relations with the Caymanian people.
We remain committed to assisting in any way we can as we share similar economic and social development objectives.
We look forward to an even closer relationship, as the CARICOM Single Market and, ultimately, the Single Economy become a reality.
There is much to be gained from pooling the resources of all the people of the Caribbean and bringing our collective influence to bear in the international economic environment. We will all benefit from united action.
I wish the Chamber of Commerce and the people of the Cayman Islands continued growth and prosperity in the years ahead.