region’s large demand for products and services.
For the enterprising entrepreneur, prospective business awaits in exporting consumer goods, telecommunication equipment and services, franchising, computers and peripherals, food processing and packaging equipment, electrical power systems, hotel and restaurant equipment/services, and pharmaceuticals. “Not only are shipping costs and travel costs lower for American businesses operating in the Caribbean,” says St. Vincent and the Grenadine’s Prime Minister Ralph E. Gonsalves, “but the Eastern Caribbean currency being pegged to the U.S. dollar also eliminates the usual uncertainties surrounding currency fluctuations.”
Exporting is providing opportunities for U.S. companies seeking to diversify their markets and to better weather the ups and downs of the domestic and international economies. And the Caribbean is a great place to start, says Brian Brisson, regional director of the Western Hemisphere for the U.S. Commercial Service, the trade promotion arm of the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. “You can mitigate risks to almost zero in exporting,” he says. “The nice thing about small- to medium-sized firms doing business in the Caribbean is that they’re not so small in those markets.”
FOLLOW THE MONEY
It’s no secret that Wall Street goes where the investment opportunities are—and some are setting their sites on the Caribbean. Last June, JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch, and Scotiabank sent senior representatives to Euromoney/Latinfinance Caribbean Investment Forum. The event, held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, matches leading figures from international markets with public and private sector leaders from the Caribbean.
“I don’t feel that there’s yet that sense of urgent recession that you feel in the U.S. and in Europe. It’s more second-hand,” says Matthew Perks, director of the forum. “I think the concern is that further down the line you’re going to see a big tailing off in tourism and fewer people with less money to spend, which will have an impact on the region’s biggest economic driver.”
Sebastian Canale, director of investment banking, Caribbean and Central America for Merrill Lynch, points out that Wall Street—and beyond—is exploring the potential of these islands. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in the area from Europeans investing in places such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados,” Canale says. “There are certain areas in the emerging markets that have wider options, and they have established a more consistent track record with respect to the markets. However, as investors go to the next frontier in terms of investment opportunities, the Caribbean is certainly there.”
Among those opportunities are everything from the financial services of the Bahamas; the oil, natural gas, and heavy industries of Trinidad; and the diamond-, gold-, and timber-endowed sectors of Guyana. Barbados welcomes investments related to the creation of knowledge-based products and services such as asset management, international arbitration, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, biotechnology, and health-information management systems. “Foreign investors are operating in Barbados either as wholly owned subsidiaries, joint ventures, or through outsourcing arrangements,” according to the Barbados Investment and Development Corp. Just last year, Barbados established an investment-promotion agency, Invest Barbados (www.investbarbados.org).
Billionaire Michael Lee-Chin saw potential in banking within his native Jamaica. Portland Holdings