The Caribbean Open Trade Support (COTS) program was a component of the Caribbean Regional Program of USAID/Jamaica, designed to facilitate the transition of the region – in particular, Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica – to open trade, and to enable the countries to compete more successfully and sustainably in the global economy. Among other business enabling activities, the program supported the streamlining of land registration and administration procedures and capacity strengthening of land administration staff.
The USAID funded program Caribbean Open Trade Support – known as COTS – focused on implementing its second work plan that became effective on July 1, 2006, and supports activities through September 30, 2007. Reflecting a more strategic focus based on reduced funding that became effective during the current reporting period, COTS aggressively implemented activities in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and in strategic regional venues, and in all of its program areas – Doing Business; Governance; Reducing Risk; and Public Awareness.
During the quarter, COTS’ Doing Business team conducted the induction workshop for the new business service provider (BSP) in Dominica to support firm level assistance activities there. The BSP signed six memoranda of understanding (MOU) for these private sector firms to receive assistance during the next quarter. Sales results during the next twelve month period from these initial interventions are expected to exceed US$500,000. In Antigua and Barbuda, the team conducted diagnostics on twenty-eight firms, and completed the first two MOU’s. One of these clients will be establishing operations in Dominica and the other client has operations in Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and Barbados. Sales results from this assistance are expected to reach more than US$250,000 over the next twelve month period.
COTS’ private sector capacity building work during the quarter is resulting in the establishment of alliances between four private sector associations in Antigua and Barbuda, and a separate alliance between four private sector associations in Dominica. This phenomenon is quite unique for the Eastern Caribbean and will support the associations’ ability to prepare policy agendas that will be used to engage their national policy makers and to promote dialogue on trade and economic policy issues. The private sector groups will use these policy agendas in regional private sector discussions.
COTS Governance activities made great strides in both legislative reform and administrative reform. COTS completed key pieces of legislation during the quarter, among them the Financial Services Act. This Act will enable Dominica to meet the requirements of the Monetary Council of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank pertaining to the establishment of a single regulatory unit for the regulation of offshore financial services and also meet its international obligations under the OECD’s Financial Action Task Force. Completion by COTS of the Draft Metrology Bill for Antigua and Barbuda supports the competitiveness of Antigua and Barbuda’s exports to Europe.
COTS completed the restructuring plan for the Statistics Division of Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of Finance and the Economy. The ministry utilized this plan as its supporting documentation to request a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank to finance a manager to implement the COTS restructuring plan. Working with Dominica’s Reform Management Unit and Land Administration Task Force, COTS’ assistance to reform the land administration and management process in Dominica began during the period. The results of this work are expected to reduce administrative barriers to acquiring, transferring and registering land for private sector development, and improve land use planning decisions, which should contribute to reducing population and structural exposure to natural hazards.
The Disaster Risk Management Benchmarking Tool (Btool) reached its draft final stage. Working with the OECS Secretariat’s Environment and Sustainable Development Unit, the tool was desk-tested in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In conjunction with the national disaster office coordinators, the team brought together a broad spectrum of public and private sector stakeholders to review the Btool before it becomes operational in the wider OECS. To ensure that the Btool is seen as an economic development planning tool rather than simply a disaster planning tool, the team conducted targeted sessions for permanent secretaries and senior policy makers to demonstrate how national governments can use the tool to improve the country’s position prior to a natural hazard event, which is far less costly than cleaning up in the aftermath.
Public Awareness activities continued to strongly support the implementation of other COTS components. Beginning in July, COTS funded a major public awareness campaign to support COTS’ IPR legislative activities in Dominica. Post-campaign survey results are due shortly. The baseline survey of the public sector, the private sector, and media workers got underway in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. Working with regional partners including the CRNM and the CSME Unit, COTS will utilize the results to develop additional training activities to better prepare public and private sector constituencies to participate in regional and international trade dialogue.
COTS has already begun working with the private sector associations in both countries to identify the policy analyst who will work with each of the groups to analyze trade issues and prepare position papers. This activity will get underway in the next quarter. Firm level assistance activities will continue and additional MOUs will be signed, resulting in additional sales for the program.
As a result of the passage of the long awaited Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority Act in July, in the coming quarter COTS will provide assistance in response to a request from the Minister of Finance and the Economy to assist the government to establish the new agency. In addition to ongoing work in land administration reform in Dominica, COTS assistance to restructure Dominica’s NDC and activities to improve customs will commence. COTS finalized preparations to support the launch of the World Bank’s OECS Doing Business Survey that will take place in St. Lucia in October. As a result of COTS funding, all six independent OECS countries appear in this important international assessment tool. Results from the World Bank Doing Business launch may result in identifying additional areas of intervention in administrative reform.
In addition to finalizing the Btool, COTS’ risk reduction activities will include work with private sector associations and their clients in both countries to prepare disaster preparedness and business continuity plans. COTS support to integrate and modernize the OECS Secretariat’s disaster preparedness library to make it accessible on line will also begin in the next quarter.
Working with the CRNM’s private sector unit, COTS public awareness and doing business teams will sponsor trade briefings for the private sector in Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda to enable constituents to both participate more effectively in trade dialogue and take better advantage of new opportunities within the open trade environment. COTS will commence its work with UWI’s Caribbean School of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) to develop a certificate level training course on reporting of trade issues targeted at media workers. Though COTS’ support will fund participants from Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, once developed the course will be open to other participants throughout the region.
COTS began implementation of its realigned work plan during this quarter. The new work plan, which was prepared in light of a 30% overall life of project funding reduction, incorporates activities to reflect the reduced funding level. In the next quarter COTS anticipates receiving the modification from USAID that will reflect this reduced funding and will prepare a revised technical scope of work. In July, COTS also submitted its draft Performance Management Plan (PMP), which it developed in accord with the realigned work plan. The outcome of the revised technical scope may require the PMP to be revised accordingly. During the quarter the program was advised of a further reduction in funds. Although the reduction did not come to fruition, they did cause further uncertainty in regard to proceeding with activities during the reporting period.
The program continues to work closely with USAID to obtain approval for specific COTS activities in order to qualify them as meeting the biodiversity earmark requirements. Once this determination is made, COTS will know if it needs to make changes or additions to program activities in order to comply with biodiversity funding requirements. This could have implications for activities throughout the overall program.
In light of the overall reduction in funds, COTS has begun to implement difficult but necessary changes in staffing to ensure that maximum resources are allocated to implementation activities. During the coming period, COTS will continue to realign as necessary, ensuring that program implementation proceeds smoothly.