Pamela Coke-Hamilton, executive director of CEDA, assigned grades ranging from a B- to an F in giving the report card on various areas of export-related performance in the region at the Caribbean Exporters' Colloquium 2014 held last week in Bridgetown under the theme 'Building Economic Resilience in the Caribbean'.
Coke-Hamilton was incisive in her presentation Tuesday to the event's first session titled 'Making the Grade: An Examination of the Region's Export Performance'.
For overall economic performance, the region earned a B- grade with economic growth offset by high fiscal and external debt.
Economic growth for the region is projected at 2.5 per cent for 2014, down from three per cent in 2013, Coke-Hamilton said. Regional GDP for the area was US$132 billion, with the Dominican Republic having the largest share, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados.
Total exports for the region stood at US$51 billion, with services representing 62 per cent.
Other grades included a B- for conformity to international standards and a sub-par D grade for innovation.
Export diversification is another concern. "We still rely on what we did 50 years ago, and we have to get beyond that," Coke-Hamilton said.
The role of the private sector in the region's economic development earned a C grade. Branding and intellectual property rights, as well as access to finance both earned C- grades.
"Our banks tend not to ascribe value to an idea," Coke-Hamilton said. The result is that businesses need to look at non-traditional providers for capital and investment.
For global logistics and shipping, the region performed at a satisfactory level with a grade of C+ with easy accessibility from the region to locations like Miami, New York, and London.
But the worst-performing area was intra-regional logistics and shipping, which received a failing grade of F.
"If we don't address it, everything else becomes, frankly, theoretical," Coke-Hamilton said.
But despite the mediocre report card, the region may have a brighter future, according to panellist Ashish Shah, director of the division of country programmes at the International Trade Centre.
"I stand convinced that the turning point has come. The report card is a very good C, in my view," and could soon improve to a B+, Shah said.
"To succeed in trade you have to be able to compete and be able to out-compete your competitors," Shah said, adding that the focus on small and medium businesses (SMBs) is most important.
Professor Victor Bulmer Thomas, honorary professor at University College, London and professor emeritus of London University, noted the danger of looking at region-wide statistics, as they are heavily influenced by the performance of one country.
"Everything is about Trinidad and Tobago," Bulmer Thomas said.
He analysed 27 individual territories in the region by looking at their economic performance. The top-rated country for the region, he said, was Cuba, which received a top score of five, followed by Haiti at four.
Cuba benefited from having access to all sorts of special arrangements, Bulmer Thomas said. One example was that the country gets Chinese tourists "in numbers that other countries can only dream of".
The export-led growth message had been received "loud and clear", across the region, Bulmer Thomas said. But there has to be a "much greater effort" put into the measurement or metrics.
Other participants in the session included Ambassador Mikael Barfod, head of delegation of the European Union to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, who moderated the discussion, and Vassell Stewart, president of the Caribbean Agricultural Business Association.
The day had a total of four sessions. The second session was titled 'Clearing the Hurdles: Key Issues Affecting Caribbean Private Sector Competitiveness', while the third session was 'The Role of the Private Sector in Regional Economic Development'. The fourth session was 'Branding and Intellectual Property Rights - The Counterweight to Volume'.