Caribbean Virtual Agri-Food Trade Mission Hits the Mark...
Castries, 19 November, 2021 (IICA) - Opportunities for increased Caribbean intra-regional trade got a boost in the recently concluded Caribbean Virtual Agri-food Trade Mission. The trade mission was hosted from 10th- 12th November, 2021 and saw the participation of 120 businesses. The trade mission sought to facilitate the participation of not only major regional agri-food enterprises but also those of a micro, small and medium size who often lack the support to tap into market opportunities.
The first annual Caribbean Virtual Agri-Food Trade Mission was successful in connecting exporters from CARICOM with buyers from the Caribbean, Central America, and North America. In particular, the trade mission saw its primary participants from the Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. From this first instalment, the business expected to be generated is estimated at USD 1,173,580. While buyers from the Caribbean participated, many buyers also originated from the United States of America.
The virtual trade mission was held using the platform of the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration’s (SIECA) Central American Trade Network (CATN). The trade mission was organised as the response of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to calls from Ministers of Agriculture and Heads of Governments for increased intra-regional food trade to support recovery efforts related to the Covid 19 pandemic. The initiative was fully sponsored by IICA.
In this initial effort, the Caribbean trade mission sought to facilitate the trade of agri-food products including primary and processed products. Johan David, Agribusiness Specialist in the IICA Guyana Delegation and member of the coordinating team noted that this focus on food producers was strategic to support a more manageable launch of the programme and to allow buyers and producers to be in the spotlight given the calls for increased intra-regional trade. She added that for major agri-food producing countries like Guyana, the trade mission was timely.
Shelley Heaven, CEO and Founder of Farm Linkr, a Jamaican online marketplace for the buying and selling of farm produce, had high praises for the work done by IICA and SIECA. She highlighted the support provided by the platform organisers in facilitating her participation and access to buyers. She added that it was amazing that despite the language differences between buyers and sellers that at times was encountered, the support by the organisers allowed business dialogue to be achieved.
“We recognise the existing challenges of face to face engagements and allows participants to use communications technology to capitalise on opportunities to connect with companies from within and outside of the region but it is key that the preparation be undertaken,” stated Natalie Paul-Harry, Senior Business Advisor at ExporTT Ltd. Sunita Daniel, Chief Executive Officer at the St. Lucia Trade Export Promotion Agency highlighted that the focus on small and medium sized businesses was crucial given their potential role in contributing to regional economies and moving product across the region. However, she stressed that the support of development and trade promotion agencies was needed to facilitate easier access to trade spaces by the businesses.
“Suppliers always clamour for access to markets while buyers tend to lament that if there were more regional suppliers, this would contribute to improved intra-regional trade and the reduction of the dependence on extra-regional food supply. As such, the trade mission was an effort to address these issues”, expressed Allister Glean, Technical Specialist in IICA’s International Trade and Regional Integration Programme.
“Through this event, we’re supporting the companies and organizations of the agrifood sector in consolidating and diversifying their presence in regional markets, contributing, in turn, to food and nutritional security and accelerating the process of economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19”, explained Daniel Rodríguez, manager of IICA’s International Trade and Regional Integration Program.
With all around positive reviews on the Caribbean Virtual Agri-Food Trade Mission, a 2022 version may be in the works and is expected to incorporate service providers and other players. However, the current activity appeared to have made its mark. Ravi Sankar, Managing Director at RHS Marketing Limited, a key distributor of food products in Trinidad and Tobago and manufacturer of the brand Karibbean Flavours remarked that his company had found various opportunities. “We are always seeking dynamic business opportunities…we will definitely be back."
Agri- food trade can contribute to global food security and virtual trade missions can play a role in bringing together businesses to promote trade. In keeping with its commitments to the Region, IICA will continue to support trade facilitation activities and the virtual trade platforms in order to promote intra- regional trade and respond to the challenges presented as a result of the COVID19 pandemic.
Institutional Communication Division