HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
7TH SITTING OF THE 4TH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
25 OCTOBER, 2022
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO’S AGRI-INVESTMENT FORUM & EXPO II
AND AFRICARIBBEAN TRADE AND INVESTMENT FORUM
Madam Speaker, I wish to report to this Honourable House on two recent initiatives aimed at improving trade and commerce within the region, and which I was fortunate to be a part of, representing the Virgin Islands.
I speak of the Trinidad and Tobago’s Agri-Investment Forum & Expo II, which was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, from 19 to 21 September, 2022, and the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF2022), which was held from 1 to 3 September, 2022 in Bridgetown Barbados.
Madam Speaker, the last few years have been very challenging for economies throughout the world. The situation has been even more difficult for Caribbean nations, the Virgin Islands included, that depend heavily on imports – whether for goods and services for consumption or for inputs for manufacturing. And, it has gotten much worse over the course of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic which started in 2020 and with the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict earlier this year. Climate change, storms, flooding and droughts have also affected the global food supplies, creating shortages and causing hikes in prices.
Many economies are suffering, and many people are suffering.
And therefore, the initiative taken by the organizers of these two regional forums was quite timely, commendable, and provide a ray of hope if stakeholders are able to follow through and these events bear fruit.
The Trinidad and Tobago’s Agri-Investment Forum & Expo II was the second such event organized through CARICOM in recent months. A successful inaugural event was held in Guyana in May of this year. These activities form part of CARICOM’s mandate to commercialize the Agri-Food systems across the region, and is conceived as an ideal platform designed to stimulate conversations among key stakeholders, such as policymakers, potential foreign and local investors, farmers, and distributors, to amplify investments and achieve the vision of reducing the region’s food import bill by 25% by 2025.
The Trinidad and Tobago’s Agri-Investment Forum & Expo II had as its theme, “Transforming Agriculture through Innovation and Investment”. Some of the objectives of the event were to highlight the importance of food security and having a resilient and sustainable agriculture system; to showcase agriculture stakeholders and the advancements made across the sector; to encourage discussions between key stakeholders in the agriculture sector regionally; to create avenues for trade and investment for producers/entities across the agriculture value chain; and to encourage the exchange of technology and/or promote investment in innovative technologies to achieve increased availability of food regionally.
The event was attended by regional Heads of State, Government Ministers, and Technical Officers; Regional Business Chambers; Development Agencies; Financial Institutions; Stakeholders across the Agriculture Value and Distribution Chains; Academic Institutions and many more. Speakers from across the CARICOM region gave presentations on Food and Nutrition, Energy, Trade and Investment, and Innovation and Technology, all in the context of agriculture and the goal of the 25% reduction of the Region’s Food import bill by the year 2025.
There were also exhibits on display on subjects such as aquaculture, hydroponics, fisheries, horticulture, apiculture, poultry, livestock, egg hatching, forestry, woodworking, agricultural supplies and heavy equipment, packaging and distribution/warehousing, and education and training. Representatives of banks and financial institutions were also on hand to discuss funding options for persons and organizations that may need it. There was also a farmers’ market with produce on display and offerings from over 200 farmers.
Madam Speaker, the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo was very informative and provided the opportunity for networking, sharing of knowledge and bringing together resources. In the presentations, it was mentioned that Guyana, Suriname and Belize have allocated land for farming, and certain investment opportunities are open to persons across the region. There is a regional effort to support the production and supply of food and other products intra-regionally. This is something I would encourage our local businesses, especially our importers and exporters and persons seeing investment opportunities, to explore, as it can result in more affordable supplies for the Virgin Islands, more secure and reliable supplies for us, and it can open up markets for products made in the Virgin Islands. Some of our people may be able to get involved in shipping food and other products between the islands.
I have passed on the relevant information to the International Relations Unit, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Trade Department, so that they can assist persons seeking information and wanting to contact the organizers, participants and exhibitors, to explore and develop business opportunities.
Madam Speaker, turning to the ACTIF2022 event; this also presents opportunities for Virgin Islanders and residents seeking business linkages.
The Trade and Investment Forum was organized by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Export Barbados (BIDC) and Invest Barbados. The forum came on the heels of a virtual inaugural Africa/CARICOM Summit, which was hosted on 7 September, 2021 and attended by Heads of States and Governments of CARICOM and the African Union, chairs of CARICOM and the African Union Commission, the Africa Regional Economic Communities, the Secretaries General of CARICOM and the Organization of the African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), and the President of the Caribbean Development Bank. Following that virtual Summit, a delegation from Afreximbank visited Barbados, where the strategic value of institutionalizing the engagement between both regions' private sectors to advance trade and investment relations, was identified.
ACTIF2022 was, therefore, designed to facilitate the Caribbean business community being able to establish new commercial relationships to expand exports to Africa and source necessary inputs for the design and manufacture of high-value products.
The anticipated outcomes from the ACTIF were: enhanced Government-Business relations across Africa and the Caribbean; and increased inter-regional trade and investment leads through effective business matchmaking.
Some of the sectors which were highlighted as bearing high potential include hotel and resort development in the Caribbean, Agri-business, Logistics and Transportation, Infrastructure Development, Water Production and Treatment, Manufacturing, Financial Services, and more.
Some 99 countries across the Caribbean, Central and South America and Africa, and also including countries like Japan, the US, the UK and Australia, participated in the Forum.
I would also encourage Virgin Islanders and residents to visit the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum 2022 website, where there is a lot of information for persons to peruse about the trade and investment initiatives.
I have passed on the relevant information to the International Relations Unit so that the Unit can assist persons who may want to contact foreign participants of the forum to explore opportunities.
Madam Speaker, it is a good thing to see the countries of the region coming together, working together, and seeking solutions to common problems – problems that may not be unique to the region, but which at times, and especially of lately, we seem to be grappling with on our own, with little interest or concern from the larger countries that are causing these economic shocks.
It is my sincere wish that we will see more of this kind of intra-regional cooperation, and that these labours will bear fruit so that the countries and Territories of the region can enjoy economic stability and growth for the benefit of all their people.
Madam Speaker, I thank you.