Caribbean Open Trade Support (COTS) Quarterly Report: April – June 2006

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 Caribbean Open Trade Support (COTS) program’s main goal is to facilitate the transition of Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries to open trade and to enable these countries to become more competitive in the global economy. To achieve its very ambitious goals, in its third quarter, COTS focused on three broad, important initiatives:

  • Support the national governments of Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica in their efforts to improve the regulatory and business environment in their countries;
  • Respond to the private sector’s need to establish a better dialogue with government officials and to support their ability to compete more effectively within the scope of regional and international integration; and
  • In coordination with regional organizations, implement activities that result in quantifiable reductions in the countries’ exposures to natural disasters and support development that preserves the sensitive environmental resources of the region.

In order to provide a well-functioning system of governance, a country must have laws that govern its economic and social development. COTS is working closely with the University of the West Indies’ Center for International Services to provide technical assistance to enable Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica to meet legislative obligations within the scope of regional and international integration. In Antigua and Barbuda, COTS is providing a part-time legislative draftsperson to work closely with the attorney general and Ministry of Legal Affairs to draft critical legislation that must be enacted for the country to meet its obligations under CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and WTO. In Dominica, COTS is funding a short-term legislative draftsperson to support additional work that will begin with COTS funding in July. COTS provided additional support for Dominica’s solicitor general to attend a two-week intensive legislative drafting course with Tulane University’s International Legislative Drafting Institute. The solicitor general’s attendance at this course fulfills one of the activity goals of the first-year work plan: increase the pool of qualified legislative draftspersons in the Eastern Caribbean.

In order to enhance inter-ministerial communications in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, COTS interviewed all the permanent secretaries in both countries, as well as some of their staff, to identify targeted interventions for each country. In Antigua and Barbuda, COTS will work with host-country counterparts to establish a committee of permanent secretaries that will meet regularly to discuss matters requiring coordination across ministries or government agencies. In Dominica, COTS’ approach will focus on providing technical and material assistance to establish a central government Web site to promote communication and information sharing.

COTS greatly advanced its efforts to improve the business climate and remove barriers to investment during the past quarter. In Dominica, COTS is working closely with the World Bank and the European Union to assist with the restructuring of the National Development Corporation (NDC). In Antigua and Barbuda, COTS is awaiting passage of legislation to establish the Investment Promotion Authority, after which COTS will provide technical assistance to establish a new investment promotion agency in Antigua. COTS provided substantial input to the updated draft of the Antigua and Barbuda Investment Promotion Authority Act. COTS is a co-sponsor with the World Bank to include, for the first time, all six of the OECS countries in the Bank’s annual “Doing Business Survey.” This report, recognized internationally by investors and governments, benchmarks a country’s business and investment climate against countries around the world. It serves as an important tool to encourage administrative reform to improve the business operating environment.

In conjunction with the CSME Focal Points in each country, COTS supported activities to promote public awareness of the CSME to the general public. Working with the media worker associations in Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, COTS supported a one-day dialogue with media workers to address the history of the regional integration movement, specific mechanics of the treaty, and provided an update as to where each country stood vis-à-vis their CSME obligations. The dialogue helped better define the role media workers play in educating the public on CSME issues. In Antigua and Barbuda, COTS helped develop a dissemination strategy to inform the public about activities the government sponsored during a week-long CSME awareness outreach program. COTS also held four “Public Outreach 101” workshops with public-sector agencies and private-sector associations, focusing on the mechanics of communicating trade issues to key stakeholders.

In addition, COTS funded Caribbean Vizion’s performances of “The Single Market Shop,” a theatrical presentation on CSME. Caribbean Vizion is a regional organization lobbying for cultural and economic cooperation between Caribbean people and their governments; they staged nine presentations in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. The dramatic presentation used humor, song, and dance to convey how the CSME can have a positive impact on peoples’ lives, and addressed many of the common concerns raised over regional integration, including crime, drugs, unemployment, and cultural identity. This was further enhanced by interaction between the cast, which hails from throughout the Caribbean, with the audience after each performance.

To support sustainable tourism development in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, COTS worked with the countries’ tourism associations to convene action-oriented workshops to prepare disaster business-recovery plans for businesses in the tourism industry. Both workshops were facilitated primarily by COTS’ risk reduction specialist, along with local disaster coordinators. The workshops fulfilled the objective to have key businesses in the major economic sectors of both countries better able to plan for, cope with, and manage the aftermath of natural disasters.

In support of international donor, government, and private-sector initiatives to implement risk reduction measures throughout the region, COTS began to develop a new tool, the Disaster Risk Management Benchmarking Tool (DRMBT), that countries will use to identify and quantify their exposure to a variety of natural hazards. The DRMBT provides a unique approach to address hazard mitigation in that it enables a country to proactively assess its position at the national and local levels across a spectrum of areas and then proactively implement measures to reduce the country’s exposure before a natural disaster occurs. This tool has the potential to offer enormous positive impact. It will enable governments and donors to assess how well a country is doing to improve its disaster risk profile. Governments can use the tool to garner resources to implement specific activities to reduce the country’s exposure to future natural hazards. Donors can use the tool to allocate resources in future development programs. In order to promote implementation of the DRMBT throughout the region, and to ensure sustainability after COTS ends, the OECS secretariat will spearhead the implementation of this new mechanism throughout the region. USAID and COTS are working closely with international organizations including CDERA, CDB, CIDA, UNDP, the World Bank, and CARICAD in this landmark activity. COTS expects that the DRMBT will be ready for use in early September and will work with Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda to implement it.

Finally, but very importantly, there have been two key issues that have had a significant impact on the program during the past quarter. The first issue was formal notification by USAID that COTS will experience a significant cut in funding, representing approximately 30 percent of the total program budget. The size of the cut itself, as well as several months of uncertainty about it, had two serious repercussions. The first is that the program delayed, and in some cases cancelled, a number of activities awaiting the outcome of budget discussions with USAID to detail the scope of the budget reduction and USAID priorities. Secondly, it became far more difficult to fully meet stakeholder expectations, which were raised when COTS began its start-up and initial implementation activities.

The nature of the COTS program — several distinct areas brought together in one programmatic package — has made it difficult to immediately reduce the long-term staff base since skills and resources in one area are not easily transferable to another. While a smaller team structure will be put in place over the course of the coming year, in the short term, COTS has to accept a thematically broad program with a significantly reduced depth of operational capacity.

A sub-issue related to the reduced budget is the variety of budgetary earmarks that comprise COTS’ funding. Specifically, the biodiversity earmark comprises 15.5 percent of funds currently obligated under the task order for the year, and 16.4 percent of expected obligations in July 2006. Activities funded by biodiversity earmarks have strict qualification requirements. As such, the COTS team, including Chemonics’ home office staff in Washington, D.C., has invested significant effort to fully understand the biodiversity code requirements and to properly interpret them in the context of an open-trade program. This included substantial coordination with USAID Mission staff and the USAID consultant currently undertaking a biodiversity threats analysis in the region.

COTS understands the importance that biodiversity plays in sustaining economic growth, in particular within the scope of a program whose main objective is to promote private-sector competitiveness through open trade. With this understanding in mind, COTS will ensure that program activities duly incorporate responses to specific threats faced by Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica’s bio-diverse environments while working to accomplish overall COTS program objectives.

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