Photo above: St. Lucia Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, right, presents an award to Paula Calderon, Managing Director of Caribbean Awning Production Company Ltd. as SMA President, Ronald Ramjattan, left, who is also the owner of Baron Foods Ltd., joins in the photo opportunity. Photo credit: SMA.
By Ernie Seon
CMC St. Lucia Correspondent
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Mar. 30, (CMC) – With high demand, globally, for Caribbean goods, St. Lucia has taken the lead in playing a key role in developing a favourable business environment and achieving the single-largest growth in export development.
Executive Director of the Barbados-based Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export), Pamela Cooke-Hamilton, recently commended St. Lucia manufacturers for their initiatives, noting, that the local sector had qualified for access to grants and finance, getting over 21 grants under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) program in areas of food security, food processing, branding and packaging.
“It’s always extremely encouraging when a country takes what they’re doing seriously. I’m singularly impressed with what St. Lucia is able to pull off, because you have made the decision to do it,” she told the recently-held third biennial quality awards of the St. Lucia Manufacturers Association (SMA).
Among the local companies receiving awards were Baron Foods, Viking Traders Ltd. and Caribbean Awning Production.
Coke-Hamilton said, there is a high demand for Caribbean goods globally, including China, with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) interested in the region having a single Caribbean brand that markets unique Caribbean products.
She said, a United Kingdom-based company is also expressing interest in Caribbean-branded products.
Caribbean Awning Production Company Ltd. received the coveted President’s Award for Excellence based on international standards for product and customer service, implementation of standards and best practices, human resource development among other criteria.
Managing Director, Paula Calderon, said, that she was pleased to have received the award, as it highlights the fact that small businesses can achieve the same standards as larger companies, praising the commitment, dedication and integrity of her staff.
“They consistently pay close attention to the quality of the products, the promise of on-time delivery and the pre- to post-service care for our customers,” she said, of the company that specializes in the manufacture, distribution, installation and maintenance of products that provide shade, shelter and security.
“We have been in existence for 16 years and is the first company of its kind which has built a reputation throughout the Caribbean for introducing new and innovative products,” Calderon said.
SMA President, Ronald Ramjattan, who is also the owner of Baron Foods Ltd. said, the awards help to strengthen companies’ management systems and standards and operating procedures by adopting the performance excellence module, based on internationally accepted standards.
Ramjattan added, that quality and standards are the bedrock of the manufacturing sector, which contributed an estimated US$105million into the local economy last year. He said, that while certification of standards remains costly, competing at the international level demands it.
“It is my firm belief that sustainable economic growth in the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) can only be achieved by penetrating the global market, one successful innovative business after another. When the OECS wins, we all win,” he opined.
Commerce Minister, Emma Hippolyte, said, SMA’s Quality Awards dovetail with government’s developmental goals towards improving competitiveness and export potential.
“Each one of you has the blueprint for excellence and has demonstrated that you all have a common focus on the future and a passion for performance improvement,” Hippolyte said, assuring manufacturers that within the next few months, the Kenny Anthony government will be implementing a new transformational strategy to create a public structure that is better suited and aligned to the new functional imperatives of the private sector.
She said, that through the Trade Export and Promotion Agency (TEPA) and the International Trade Centre (ITC), a new national export strategy for St. Lucia will soon be developed, and she urged manufacturers, to never compromise on quality, especially in an era of business, underscored by trade liberalization and globalization.
In the end, she said, consumers are looking for value for money.
“Companies must put management systems in place and assure consumers that the best practices have been employed in generating a particular product or service,” Hippolyte said.
Coke-Hamilton also offered challenges of her own. She said, that despite the interest being placed on Caribbean goods, the region still has many battles to overcome, including becoming export-ready by addressing the areas that are critical to the exporters.
“Statistically, the food and beverage sector accounted for 58 per cent of total manufacturing in St. Lucia in 2014. However, the island’s food import bill continues to remain high,” she said, noting, that in 2013, St, Lucia imported US$592.7 million worth of goods and services, with food comprising 23 per cent of that amount,” she reported.
She said, that the challenge for regional businesses is tapping into potential industries that can produce similar goods, thus reducing the food import bill.
Coke-Hamilton noted, tourism should be strategically linked to the manufacturing sector to create economic opportunities for businesses.
“While the local tourism sector recorded steady growth figures in recent years, such growth should encourage the manufacturing sector to become more dynamic by tapping into linkages,” she said.
She further argued, that while standards and regulations, branding and packaging, and knowledge of market opportunities remain key concerns and limitations for the region’s private sector, companies like Baron Foods Ltd and Viking Traders Ltd., which set up shop here over the past three decades, serve as role models.
“They represent, in my opinion, the kinds of SMEs (small medium enterprises) that our region needs. Caribbean Export has supported both of these companies,” Coke-Hamilton said.
“But what we find incredibly heart-warming, encouraging and invigorating about these two companies and their journeys, is that they’ve taken the support received to catapult them to new levels, which is what export development is all about,” she added.