Tag Archives: Trinidad

Ranking Caribbean Countries’ Competitiveness: WEF Global Competitiveness Index 2016-2017

business-561388_960_720Alicia Nicholls

A few days ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017. Two things immediately struck me as I perused the list of 138 economies which made the GCI 2016. The first was that because of data shortages only 4 Caribbean countries (Barbados, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Trinidad & Tobago in order of rank) were included in this year’s index. The second was that all four of these economies were in the bottom 50 per cent of the survey sample, with the highest ranked (Barbados) at only 72nd place.

The WEF in its Global Competitiveness Report defines competitiveness as “the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of an economy which in turn sets the level of prosperity that the country can achieve”.The GCI’s 114 indicators are grouped into 12 pillars which are further grouped into 3 sub-indices.  Collectively they measure an economy’s performance on a variety of concepts which impact on productivity and prosperity. Some of these include basic requirements such as institutions, infrastructure and macroeconomic environment to more sophisticated indicators dealing with business sophistication and innovation.

In the preface to this year’s report, the World Economic Forum team highlighted that “many of the competitiveness challenges we see today stem from the aftermath of the financial crisis”.  Productivity and GDP growth in advanced economies and increasingly emerging economies remain subdued. This equally applies to Caribbean countries whose small open economies enhanced their vulnerability to the effects of global financial and economic crisis of 2008, and face many competitiveness disadvantages inherent in their smallness. However, not all of the region’s competitiveness challenges are structural and many are within our power to address.

Caribbean Countries’ WEF GCI Performance 2016-2017

So how did the region fare on the GCI this time around?  Barbados, whose economic recovery remains fragile, topped the CARIFORUM rankings with a rank of 72. Due to data shortages, the island had not been included in the 2015-2016 index but has dropped several places since its rank of 55 out of 144 economies on the 2014-2015 index.

Barbados commendably tops the Latin America and Caribbean region in infrastructure, labour market efficiency and technology. However, the island’s most problematic factors for doing business are as follows: poor work ethic in national labour force, inefficient government bureaucracy, tax rates, restrictive labour regulations and access to financing. Unlike the other three Caribbean economies included, corruption was not seen as a major problem in Barbados.

Trinidad & Tobago, which is currently in recession, has also lost ground, ranking 94 out of 138 economies in 2016-2017, compared to 89 out 140 in 2015-2016. The top 5 problem areas for Trinidad & Tobago for doing business were poor work ethic in national labour force, corruption, inefficient government bureaucracy, crime and theft and foreign currency regulations. But there is a silver lining. The WEF GCI identifies three stages of development: Stage 1 (Factor-driven), Stage 2 (Efficiency-driven) and Stage 3 (Innovation-driven). Trinidad was the only Caribbean country listed as a stage 3 economy (innovation-driven). Barbados was ranked as transitioning between stages 2 and 3. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic were classified as stage 2.

Some more good news is that Jamaica saw forward movement on the index, moving to 75 out of 138 in 2016-2017 from 86 out of 140 in 2015-2016, as well as the Dominican Republic which ranked 92 out of 138 countries in 2016-2017 compared to 98 out of 140 countries in 2015-2016. The Dominican Republic’s reforms were mentioned in the report.

Importance of Country Competitiveness Indices

The WEF GCI is the most comprehensive benchmark of national competitiveness of economies worldwide. This year’s index comprised 98% of the global economy. It is, therefore, quite disappointing that not only does no Caribbean country currently rank among the top 50, but that so few Caribbean countries are included in the 2016-2017 index compared to previous indices as a result of data shortages.

These rankings are important for several reasons.The GCI is a useful tool for policy makers not only  for benchmarking the economy’s current performance  across over 100 competitiveness indicators against its historical performance, but also against other economies in the same bracket. As such, it provides good empirical evidence for setting policy priorities and interventions as national competitiveness strategies are crafted and refined.

Secondly, and importantly for small economies which depend significantly on foreign direct investment inflows, the WEF GCI is one of several indices, along with the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, which discerning investors consult when considering potential investment locations. For this reason, it is not uncommon for investment promotion agencies to reference their country’s favourable performance on these indices when marketing to prospective investors.

The Way Forward

It is axiomatic for any economy that  competitiveness should not only be long-term but sustainable. What the current WEF GCI makes clear is that economies in the Caribbean region have a lot of room for improvement, particularly in these problem areas: inefficient government bureaucracy, work ethic in the national labor force and corruption. Improving our competitiveness, however, is not a government responsibility alone. It requires continued strategic and enhanced  public-private sector collaboration and partnership.

Governments, the private sector and other stakeholders including trade unions and other civil society actors, therefore, need to closely examine the causes and solutions for these problematic areas. For example, what are the factors which contribute to the perception of “poor work ethic”? What country-level and firm-level productivity enhancing reforms are working and which need revising or implementing? What can we do improve the vexing issue of “inefficient government bureaucracy”? This year’s Global Competitiveness Report focused heavily on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What role can ICTs play in improving our weak areas?

We can also take lessons from those economies which consistently rank as the most competitive economies and those which saw tremendous improvement. The top five economies in this year’s GCI were in order of ranking: Switzerland, Singapore, United States, Netherlands and Germany. What best practices can we learn from these countries? How about those countries like India, which made the biggest leap of any country in this year’s index by climbing 16 places? Or Mauritius, a SIDS, ranks 45th , having climbed two places? Even our own Jamaica and the Dominican Republic which saw improved rankings may hold valuable lessons.

Businesses also need to play their part. It is unacceptable that the region is so poorly represented on the GCI year after year. A few years ago, I was part of the survey team which administered the WEF  Executive Opinion Survey in Barbados, the main instrument used for gathering the data utilised in a whole suite of WEF reports, including the Global Competitiveness Report. While in each instance our team was able to meet our quota, one of the challenges we found was the unwillingness of some business executives either to participate in the survey, or to complete it properly and in a timely manner. This is after repeated attempts to impress upon them the importance of the data collected in the survey for judging Barbados’ competitiveness and to ensuring Barbados was ranked on this important index. If insufficient businesses answer the survey, the country will not be included in the index. To encourage greater private sector participation in the survey in each country, I suggest there be closer collaboration between the country partner institutes and the various private sector bodies in the countries.

The full WEF GCI 2016-2017 Report may be accessed here.

 Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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The 2012 London Olympics: Rally around the Caribbean!

Alicia Nicholls

David Rudder’s famous calypso ‘Rally ’round the West Indies’ came to my mind as I watched the end of the track and field events of the 2012 London Olympics on television today with regional pride. This song, which has become the anthem of the West Indies cricket team, is about cricket but the regional pride and call to action which it exudes can apply to any facet of regional life.

Of the two hundred and four countries represented at the games of the XXX Olympiad, twenty-two were from the Caribbean,  representing our unique melting pot of cultures and tongues. Since the region’s first showing at the Olympic Games in London in 1948, the way for our younger athletes today has been paved by several regional track and field legends, the likes of which include: Arthur Wint (Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medalist),  Rodney Wilkes (Trinidad & Tobago’s first Olympic gold medalist), Hasely Crawford, Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, Ato Bolden,  just to name a few.

I would be the first to admit that unlike previous years, I was not initially feeling the hype of the Summer Olympic Games this time around.  But by the second week of the games, the strong Caribbean presence, particularly in the track and field events, was enough to shake my apathy and keep me glued to my computer to hear the latest updates.

The London Olympic Games were full of heart-warming, tear-inducing moments for all Caribbean people here and in the diaspora. Thanks to Jamaican athletes Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s lightning fast wins in their respective 100m events, the Caribbean can boast the fastest man and woman on earth. Smashing world record after record, Usain Bolt has been the first to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal in not one but two events (men’s individual 100m and 200m) and has undoubtedly sealed his place in history as the greatest sprinter of all time. Anchored by Bolt, the record-setting performance of the Jamaican quartet in the 4 by 100m relay brought a resounding end to the track and field events for the region.

The 2012  London Olympics has been the best Olympic Games for the Caribbean in terms of medal tally and the distribution of medals. The region won 15 medals in Sydney, 15 in Beijing and now 18 medals in London, of which  7 are gold medals.  This is also the best Olympic performance by individual CARICOM countries, with Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and the Bahamas all winning Olympic gold in track and field events. Jamaica has finished third overall in the track and medal table, winning 12 medals, only behind the United States and Russia, but ahead of other big countries like the UK. While the English-speaking Caribbean’s medal success has been in track and field, Cuba represented the region well off-track by winning gold in judo, boxing, shooting and wrestling.

Perhaps the most poignant moments  of the games for me were the successes of our young, first-time Olympians. Hitherto unknown and not yet twenty, Trinidad & Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott became the first person from the western hemisphere in over six decades to win Olympic gold in the javelin throw. Kirani James’ stunning win in the 400m dash gave Grenadians the world over their country’s first Olympic medal and the inspirational moment of hearing their national anthem being played at an Olympic Stadium for the first time.

The Caribbean is traditionally used to world-dominance in cricket, producing some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. Now our region’s world class track and field athletes have shown the rest of the world that the track dust which we stir up is larger than the dots that represent us on maps. The symbolism of the Caribbean’s domination of the track and field events in this year’s games cannot be escaped.  For the English-speaking Caribbean, being able to flex our athletic muscle and assert our dominance against seasoned athletes from metropolitan countries, in the capital city of our former mother country, was an empowering feeling. The performance of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago is particularly symbolic given that this August marks a half century of both countries’ independence from Great Britain.

Nothing can compare to the pride I felt seeing the flags of Caribbean countries being hoisted in the air or the look of achievement and love of country and region on the faces of our athletes as they stood atop the podiums to receive their medals at the medal ceremonies. It is Caribbean athletes’ names that will be on the lips of all who speak of the London Olympics of 2012. Their prowess will be etched in our memories forever.

In addition to this, the Caribbean pride I saw glowing from the status updates and comments of my Facebook friends, the impassioned cries of Caribbean unity and “one Caribbean” was truly encouraging particularly at a time when so many are bemoaning the apparent stagnation of CARICOM and the regional integration movement on a whole. Caribbean people both in the region and in the diaspora have been united in their celebration of regional athletes’ success at the London Olympic Games of 2012. The Caribbean pride that I saw during these games was not manufactured. It was genuine. Never again can anyone say that Caribbean integration is beyond our reach. Just as we have put parochialism and petty stereotypes about each other aside momentarily for the past days and rallied around our Olympic athletes, it is about high time our governments get serious about regional integration and rally together for the good of the region.

The Caribbean could not have asked for a better performance from our ambassadors. All of our Caribbean Olympians, whether they medaled or not, are champions and deserve heartfelt congratulations from the region. You have made our people proud!

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

Embracing ‘Mother India’: Some thoughts on prospects for enhanced India and Trinidad & Tobago trade

Alicia Nicholls

I was quite delighted when I read in the news last week that the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, the Hon Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is currently on a ten day official mission to India at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister, the Hon Manmohan Singh. Though I am not Trinibagonian or Indian for that matter, the news piqued my interest, particularly because I am a firm believer in south-south trade and development.  Two weeks ago, I wrote about the prospects of enhancing Brazil-CARICOM trade. This week, the state visit by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar serves as a good backdrop against which to consider the prospects for enhanced Trinidad & Tobago-India trade.

India-Trinidad & Tobago connection

Trinidad & Tobago proudly calls itself the land of steelpan, calypso and chutney. Successive waves of European colonialism, indenture-ship and later waves of migration have made the twin island republic one of the most multicultural societies in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Trinidad & Tobago and India share more than just a deep passion for cricket. Though separated by many thousands of kilometers of land and sea, they are united by deep historic and cultural bonds rooted in the colonial experience. Indo-Trinibagonians are estimated to comprise 42% of that country’s population. Take a walk down the streets of Port of Spain on an average day and you can see restaurants and street vendors selling Indian-inspired local delicacies like roti and buss-up-shut. The uptempo rhythm of Chutney music shares the airwaves with soca and calypso and national holidays like Indian Arrival Day, Diwali and Eid-ul-Fitr are celebrated with reverence.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whose ancestral village is in Bihar in India, is the first woman and the second person of Indian descent to ascend to the reins of Government in Trinidad & Tobago. She is also the first woman of the wider Indian diaspora to become a Head of Government.  Accompanied on the mission by a high-level ministerial and business delegation which also includes cricketing legend, Brian Lara, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar is the chief guest at the 10th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) ‘Global India-Inclusive Growth’ in Jaipur and will be conferred the coveted Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award.  The PBD is a prestigious annual event which unites distinguished persons of Indian origin across the world. The event is part of India’s wider efforts to court and harness the potential of its vast diaspora for socio-economic development in the homeland and Trinidad & Tobago has seized the opportunity with open arms.

Trinidad & Tobago-India Bilateral Trade

Trinidad & Tobago and India have long shared strong diplomatic ties, which have been cemented through formal and informal cultural exchanges over the years, including the establishment of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Cultural Cooperation in Port of Spain and the provision of Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme scholarships to  Trinibagonian students each year.

Trinidad & Tobago and India already do a fair and growing amount of bilateral trade.  According to a recent study published by the Export-Import Bank of India, Trinidad & Tobago is the leading country for Indian imports from the region, accounting for 79% in 2009-10 and is the second largest importer of Indian goods from the region (after the Bahamas).  The report reveals that manufactures of metals account for nearly half of Trinidad & Tobago’s imports from India followed by petroleum products, primary & semi-finished iron & steel, pharmaceutical products and plastic & linoleum products. Trinidad & Tobago is also the largest destination for Indian investment in the region, receiving 67.5% of these flows. The main sectors  for Indian investment in Trinidad & Tobago include finance, iron and steel and metal and food processing. Several major Indian multinational firms like Arcelor Mittal and the New India Assurance Co already have a presence in that country. India and Trinidad & Tobago also have a double taxation treaty.

Embracing ‘Mother India’

The move by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to capitalize on India’s overtures towards engaging its diaspora for homeland development is a smart and strategic one. Despite its current economic woes, India remains one of the most robust and dynamic economies in the world.  Currently the world’s tenth largest economy, India is predicted by the economic think tank the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to become the world’s  fifth largest economy by 2020.   Besides the gains which Trinidad & Tobago-India trade present for south-south trade, Indian expertise and investment could help in Trinidad & Tobago’s export diversification, while greater trade links with India could help reduce the vulnerability associated with an over-reliance on too few export markets.

Moreover, the move to embrace ‘Mother India’ is one which has global precedent. The Pacific island nation of Mauritius, which bears several similarities with Trinidad & Tobago including a large Indian diaspora, has strategically deepened its economic and cultural links with the sub-continent.  Mauritius is not only among the top direct investors in India, but the island is currently one of the preferred destinations for Indian outward FDI and serves a gateway for Indian investment in Africa.

Though Indian investment in foreign countries has slowed, closer economic ties between India and Trinidad & Tobago could make it easier for Indian businesses to invest in and do business in Trinidad & Tobago and vice-versa.  The Export-Import Bank of India study cited several areas of potential sectors of Indian investment in Trinidad & Tobago, chiefly energy, fish processing, film and ICTs.  Besides its low energy costs, well-skilled workforce and favourable investment climate and incentives package, the twin island republic’s geographic location  has also been touted by its Prime Minister as the perfect base for Indian investment in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region and for Ayurveda and wellness centres specialising in traditional Indian medicine and healing.

In terms of Trinidad & Tobago-India services trade, there is much potential as well given the skills and know-how which Indian professionals could continue to bring to Trinidad & Tobago, particularly in the areas of engineering, traditional Indian medicine and information technology. This expertise sharing will not be one-way. As Prime Minister Persad- Bissessar  acknowledged, Trinidad & Tobago can provide to India over a hundred years of technical expertise in oil and natural gas production. Indeed, Trinidad & Tobago is already sharing this expertise with other developing countries, including Ghana.

There is also much scope for expanded cultural industries trade and tourism given the strong cultural affinity many in the Indo-Trinibagonian community feel with ‘Mother India’ and the popularity of Bollywood music and films in Trinidad & Tobago. Trinidad & Tobago has also signaled an intention to promote steelpan music in India. Despite the long distance and prohibitive costs of air travel, Indo-Trinidadians seeking to trace their Indian roots and to learn about their ancestral home could be a good target market for Indian tourism officials. In regards to Indian tourism in Trinidad & Tobago, the Trinidad & Tobago government has already waived visa restrictions on Indians visiting that country for tourism and business purposes within a 90 year period.

Indeed, the prospects for deepening Trinidad & Tobago and Indian trade are bright and exciting. According to the joint statement released by India and Trinidad & Tobago, bilateral agreements have already been signed on cooperation in the areas of air services, culture, technical education and traditional Indian medicine. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has also offered Trinidad & Tobago as a venue for hosting PBDs in the Caribbean. I think it would be useful for Trinidad & Tobago and India to encourage cooperation between their respective investment promotion agencies in order to better inform potential investors of investment opportunities in their respective countries and to facilitate the flow of investments between the two countries.  Just two more days are left in the official visit. I look forward to what other prospects they bring.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.