The future of the Caribbean is digital. The rise of the online economy is set to grow new businesses and transform existing ones. Though the foundations of this change are strong within our region‚ growth will not just happen. This is evidenced in the field of eCommerce‚ where much progress has been made but more can still be done.
WHAT IS THE STATE OF E-COMMERCE IN THE CARIBBEAN?
At its core, there is a key theme seen across a number of areas in regional business. It’s clear that the people of the Caribbean hold great talent and the potential to seize upon the advantages offered by e-Commerce but traditional (what we could now only call outdated) structures have limited its capacity to grow.
This issue is not confined to our region alone. That’s why even though Japan is viewed as a hyper-modern economy on the cutting edge of technology in Asia, its heavily cash-dependent economy also sees it behind the pace in some economic indicators that laud digital finance and transactions.
HOW WILL E-COMMERCE GROW IN THE REGION?
While other nations and regions around the world have looked to rapidly shift to a financial architecture that seizes upon the future‚ the Caribbean has been slower to create change in our banking system and practices, change that enables regional entrepreneurs and businesses to quickly and easily shift their business from bricks and mortar to online operations. Even when they do‚ greater fees or red tape can be an inhibitor to generating new ideas and enthusiasm.
More widely‚ there’s the challenge of regional co-operation. The potential for the Caribbean to grow greater trade ties and relationships within our region is considerable but shifting that longstanding potential into actionable policy is more difficult. Underpinning all this is the irony that the Caribbean is recognised as a leader of global finance (controversies in it notwithstanding).
But it is in this field that good results can be pursued on the ground floor, ones that benefit not only the billionaires who may bank in our region via a Citizenship by Investment Programme but also the entrepreneurs looking to start a new venture‚ and existing businesses seeking to go digital and build for their future.
Put simply‚ the Caribbean already leads in one field‚ so the architecture exists to build a leading advantage in the other.
WHERE WILL ACTION COME FROM?
E-Commerce in the Caribbean has potential but it must not remain something ‘with potential’ for too long; it will need clear and steady signs of growth for the region to capitalise on it.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cited strengthening the business environment as crucial to the Caribbean’s future. Signing a new free trade deal or creating 10,000 new jobs cannot be done with the stroke of a pen but regional governments creating a more proactive culture for e-Commerce growth is more a matter of modernising reforms over gigantic changes. As progress on these reforms could occur relatively quickly, so could seeing strong results from it.
While government will play a vital role in this field‚ the real momentum to drive change will come from business. This can be an area where big and sweeping change is brought in (which chamber of commerce wouldn’t be delighted to think the next Amazon is being built in its community?) but it can also be small things.
The development of local e-Commerce content, like plug-ins, is something that could be done inexpensively locally‚ but really help build the Caribbean brand in e-Commerce regionally and globally.
Nonetheless‚ while the greatest innovation may come from the private sector‚ it’s a reality that government that will play a core role, no matter what, due to e-Commerce’s need for good infrastructure, namely electricity prices and internet speeds. It’s here that initiatives like the GO Network pilot here in Saint Lucia could not only improve our country’s digital brand in tourism but jumpstart a new era for e-Commerce.
The growth of e-Commerce in the Caribbean would also bring benefits beyond the online arena, chiefly‚ the possibility to cut through existing irritations in daily life.