The Caribbean requires more ambitious discussions on developing and converting innovation into economic growth and sustainable development.
That series of discussions, which should take place at the government and enterprise levels as well as between the two sides, is the first step recommended by trade specialist Malcolm Spence for whom the next step, to be taken soon afterwards, is translating talk into action.
Mr. Spence, Senior Co-ordinator, Intellectual Property, Science and Technology, Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) recognized that some discussion and efforts related to innovation were taking place in the Caribbean but he posited that a more action-driven approach was required.
The trade specialist stressed that the Caribbean must show not only an awareness that the era of tariff protection was finished but the region must act in a manner which demonstrated recognition of that fact.
“We can no longer expect or behave as if we think that our competitiveness can be based on price differentiation that is driven by tariff protection, we have to concentrate on ensuring that our goods and services benefit from value creation; value creation which will heighten consumer preference.”
“This value creation can be achieved by innovation, adding our creativity to our products, … and so fuel consumer demand,” he explained. The region, Mr. Spence said, has to be able to effectively protect that value creation, therefore its business sector, entrepreneurs, government leaders, public servants must understand the true worth of intellectual property and incorporate it in their plans.
Geographical indications were among the areas which he mentioned in reference to value creation and intellectual property rights. He noted that the region has to identify products for which geographic indications can be used as a competitive tool. As an example of such efforts, he pointed to work being done at the cocoa research in UWI Trinidad http://sta.uwi.edu/cru/index.asp.
The CARIFORUM-EC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) recently signed between CARIFORUM countries and the European Commission contains provision which the Caribbean can use to create initiatives for developing and protecting its innovations. Spence is of the view that policies like industrialisation by invitation and import substitution used by the Caribbean in the past were not as effective in pushing its economic growth and development objectives as had been expected.
He therefore sees the need for a completely new model of industrial policy that is relevant to small Caribbean economies operating in this technologically driven, free market global environment.
This policy, he believes must incorporate business strategies focusing on product differentiation in both goods and services, rather than on the commodities we have been trying to produce at costs lower than our much larger competitors. It will require significantly improved manpower management and a more enlightened approach to research and development.