The Intra Commonwealth Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ICSA), established in 2016 to facilitate sustainable platforms for exporters and importers, helped to promote trade opportunities between Commonwealth countries at the second annual Caribbean Investment Forum 2023 (CIF) held in Nassau, The Bahamas, from October 23 to 25, 2023. This collaborative effort between the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the European Union and the Government of the Bahamas, as host country, provided a unique opportunity for SMEs to connect with potential investors, gain insights into emerging markets, and exchange innovative business strategies.
Creating a nexus for global investors, government representatives, and industry experts, the CIF aimed to explore abundant investment opportunities within the Caribbean region, focusing on the goals of investment, awareness, and community. ICSA representatives from Africa and South Asia, aligning with the forum's objectives, highlighted Commonwealth intra-trade promotion. Attendees were offered a unique experience via investment villages, spotlighting key sectors and providing platforms for in-depth exploration and potential ventures.
Speaking on the importance of the forum to promote cross-regional networking, Deodat Maharaj, Executive Director, Caribbean Export Development Agency, said:
“We are elated by the remarkable success of the recently concluded Caribbean Investment Forum and wish to express our profound gratitude for the invaluable support extended by the Commonwealth Secretariat. Our collaboration to facilitate representatives from South Asia and Africa’s Intra Commonwealth SME Association has played a pivotal role in fostering meaningful South-South business partnerships with Caribbean entities in the future. We are eager to further strengthen these connections and look forward to the promising prospects that lie ahead.”
SMEs play a vital role in driving economic growth and development across all Commonwealth countries and contribute significantly to job creation, poverty reduction and social development. Almost all SMEs, however, have been impacted by rising costs and inflation, coupled with increasing transport costs and skills shortages for exports globally, and support in facilitating access to marketplaces such as CIF has become invaluable to improving the competitiveness of SMEs globally.
Shafquat Haider, Vice Chair of the Intra-Commonwealth SME Association (ICSA), said:
“Obstacles, hardships and dilemmas in international trade require innovative solutions to ensure prosperity and innovative development.. ICSA’s participation in forums like CIF can serve as a catalyst for SMEs, providing them with exposure, knowledge and connections needed to thrive and expand their businesses. Forums can increase the visibility of SMEs on a regional and global scale. This exposure can attract potential customers and investors, helping SMEs grow their businesses. This can also help in building bridges to cultivate a future of prosperity through South-South Commonwealth trade.”
ETK Global (ETK), a UK SME consulting firm participating in the CIF as part of the ICSA delegation, emphasised the imperative of Commonwealth trade promotion, particularly with Africa, to support SME growth. ETK highlighted the opportunities in South-South trade presented at CIF, with numerous SMEs eager to expand their markets in global south countries, seeking support to review market entry and growth solutions.
Speaking on the importance of the event in generating south-south collaboration, Tori Abiola, Director, ETK Group said:
“The forum has allowed us to explore how we can collectively boost trade and investments among SMEs. We're actively working with Caribbean development finance institutions, banks, entrepreneurs, and investors to connect with regional trade and investment zones, nurturing their growth on the global stage. In addition, I had the privilege of meeting with SME enablers, including business chambers of commerce, accelerators, commercial banks, and agricultural companies looking to expand their global exports. Our discussions with young entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs have been truly inspiring. We've been diving into their fundraising strategies and investor readiness propositions, offering support and guidance as they embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. The future is bright for SMEs across the Commonwealth, and I'm honoured to play a part in facilitating their market expansion and readiness for investors."
Connecting stakeholders with a shared advocacy to develop new and deeper forms of economic cooperation across the Commonwealth lies at the heart of ICSA’s operation. The Commonwealth’s Trade Competitiveness Section continues to provide support to ICSA in ensuring such initiatives and representation in dialogues and platforms, such as CIF and the most recent Commonwealth Games 2022 , can help SMEs gain exposure to new markets and secure investment for sustainable economic growth.