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.
Caribbean Open Trade Support (COTS) is a program funded by USAID/J-CAR to support achievement of USAID’s Regional Strategic Objective (RSO9) “Caribbean region positioned to succeed in an open trade environment.” Within the scope of RSO9, there are two Intermediate Results (IRs) that guide development and implementation of COTS activities. IR-1, “Market opportunities leveraged through open trade”, is further delineated into two lower level IR’s, which include IR-1.1, “Key regional impediments to open trade mitigated,” and IR-1.2, “Improved market access for target countries.” The second IR, IR-2, is “Natural assets and national investments protected.”
The COTS Team developed its work plan to incorporate a long term four year vision and overall intervention strategy for each of five components to guide implementation throughout the life of the program, and to achieve results in IR-1.1 and IR-1.2, and in IR-2. The five components, Governance, Doing Business, Public-Private Interface, Resilience to Natural Disasters, and Public Awareness, incorporate the Team’s understanding of the situation in each country, and specific interventions to rectify constraints and capitalize on opportunities in each of the component areas.
The Governance Component of COTS incorporates two activity areas: Trade Related Legal Reforms, and Improving the Business Climate through Reduction of Business Constraints and Clarity in Investment Rules. Activities within Trade Related Legal Reforms support IR1.1 and IR-1.2. Improving the Business Climate activities also support IR-1.1 and IR-1.2. COTS is implementing activities in its Doing Business Component to support IR-1.2. Activities in Public-Private Interface support IR-1.1 and IR-1.2. All of the activities within Resilience to Natural Disasters support IR-2. Finally, Public Awareness activities are fully cross-cutting, and support IR-1.1 and 1.2, as well as IR-2. It is within the scope of these components and the approved First Year Work Plan that COTS implemented activities during the quarter January 1, 2006 through March 31, 2006.
The quarter January through March 2006 represents the first full quarter of program implementation activities in all of the COTS components.
COTS implemented a number of activities during the quarter to improve the ability of the public and private sectors to understand international trade issues; become compliant with regional and international trade and treaty obligations; support public awareness about CSME; and improve the administrative environment for business.
To improve understanding of international trade issues, public and private representatives from Dominica, and a public sector representative from Antigua, participated in segments of an international trade policy course sponsored by the Centre for International Services at the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus in Barbados.
In Antigua, COTS financed the printing of a journal published by the government that addresses the opportunities that CSME offers to citizens and the private sector. COTS supplemented this public awareness effort by funding a local radio station to air a live ‘town hall’ style radio broadcast that had local and regional panelists responding to live audience questions about what CSME means for Antigua.
To support compliance with regional and international treaty obligations in Dominica, COTS executed a contract with UWI in Barbados for UWI to provide a full time legislative draftsperson for a one year period to work with the Solicitor General to draft a range of needed legislation. Drafting will begin in April.
In support of this same effort in Antigua, COTS is finalizing a contract with UWI to provide short term assistance for a one year period in legislative drafting, and a separate one year contract to ‘scrub’ existing legislation in both Antigua and Dominica to amend and/or eliminate legislation that is not compliant with CSME. This work will begin in April.
COTS efforts during the quarter to support administrative reform include support to Antigua’s tax reform efforts. COTS trained Inland Revenue Department (IRD) officials to improve their customer service to effectively explain to customers the registration, filing, and auditing requirements related to the new income tax regime that Antigua is implementing. COTS also prepared a new tax guide that outlines for
business the requirements on how to file corporate tax, withholding tax, sales tax, and statutory payroll tax. This draft guide is being reviewed by IRD and by a representative from CARTAC who is based at IRD. Once it is finalized, IRD will post this on its website, thereby making the guide easily accessible to the public.
In administrative reform in Dominica, during the quarter COTS worked closely with the government’s Reform Management Unit (RMU) to support improvement in the land tenure area. This initiative addresses both administrative reform and COTS public-private interface activities. At the request of the RMU, COTS is preparing to review and revise the system of land registration and management so that this process can be integrated and managed in one location, rather than being dispersed among a number of government agencies. COTS will implement this activity in conjunction with the RMU and the Dominica Land Tenure and Administration Task Force, a group that comprises public and private sector participants.
COTS public-private interface activities during the quarter in Antigua include completion of an economic analysis of the impact on including wheat and flour products on a list of protected items within the scope of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. Responding quickly to a request from the government, COTS completed the impact analysis, and the government is utilizing these results to negotiate better terms with regional partners to import lower cost flour. COTS is utilizing this action to reinvigorate the Business-Labour Advisory Committee to strengthen and regularize public-private dialogue.
COTS completed several major activities in competitiveness and is moving forward to improve the quality and breadth of services that business consulting companies offer. During the quarter, COTS completed its analysis of potential lead firms in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, assessing their commitment to grow and identifying the key problems that constrain their growth in order to develop practical, firm level solutions to remedy them. COTS will submit the team’s report in early April and begin implementation immediately.
Integrated with this activity are the services that business service providers (BSP) offer to clients. During the quarter, COTS completed the bid solicitation process in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, holding bidders conference in both countries, and receiving expressions of interest from throughout the Caribbean, and the United States. COTS expects to award the first BSP contract early next quarter, and integrate BSP activities with the firm level assistance program to improve competitiveness.
COTS responded to an urgent request from the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association (DHTA) to assess the impact on tourism related businesses of the newly introduced VAT, and the impact of extremely high energy costs. The DHTA will use the results of this assessment to advocate a position with the government to improve the sector’s competitiveness based on factual analysis. This activity addresses several of the COTS implementation areas, including improving business competitiveness; strengthening the private sector’s ability to advocate on its behalf with government; and, improving the dialogue between the public and private sectors.
COTS is implementing public awareness activities to support the COTS components, and is working closely with regional organizations to integrate and leverage resources. In relation to the CSME, at the regional level COTS is working closely with the CSME Unit in Barbados, the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) in Barbados, and representatives from the OECS Secretariat to support their communication efforts to inform regional citizens about opportunities under CSME and other international trade agreements.
COTS is working with respective counterparts in Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda to develop CSME public awareness campaigns, and this includes developing appropriate messages in a user-friendly format to reach target audiences like youth. During the quarter COTS also confirmed its training for media workers in both Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda in April through the respective media workers unions in both countries. This activity will strengthen the media’s ability to understand and more accurately report on trade issues in the local media, thereby increasing the public’s understanding of regional and international trade issues. In order to measure the public’s change in perception towards regional integration, COTS is undertaking baseline surveys in both countries. The bidding process is complete, and the work will begin early in the next quarter.
Risk reduction has become a major focus for COTS. The team is working closely with Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) and Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and is strengthening its relationship with the OECS Secretariat. USAID has requested that COTS embark on a new regional risk reduction benchmarking activity. COTS provided USAID with a draft of some initial benchmarking measurements. Early in the next quarter COTS will work closely with CDB and move forward to develop this new tool.
COTS is working in Antigua to close the regulatory and operational gaps that exist in development policy and planning, and risk reduction and response. The first activity in this regard is the Integrated Development Planning Workshop, taking place in early April. COTS will advance this focus in the next quarter in Dominica.
Also in Dominica, COTS is implementing much needed coastal vulnerability and multihazard assessment work. The results from these activities will provide vital information to develop an informed national hazard mitigation policy and national hazard mitigation plan – the overarching framework – that is presently lacking in Dominica.
The Chemonics home office Project Management Unit strongly supported program implementation by completing a range of administrative activities to make the field offices in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica fully operational. During the quarter the field offices completed local program registration for COTS in both Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. Part of this effort includes the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to ensure that field office staff and program commodities and information are protected in the event of natural disaster.
Chemonics completed substantial work during the quarter to populate and implement the Administrative Management Program (AMP). Per the task order requirement, AMP will provide USAID with 365 day, 24 hour, 7 calendar days a week access to an internal project website and reporting database. AMP should be fully operational early in the next quarter.
The Competitiveness Specialist (Pol Klein) and the Consulting Services and Association Development Specialist (Earle Baccus) were fielded on their long term assignments early in the quarter. Due to personal reasons, the Administrative and Regulatory Reform Specialist who was fielded (Terrence Slywka) returned to the United States. Chemonics expects that a new long term Administrative and Regulatory Reform Specialist will be fielded early in the next quarter.
In other personnel matters, the COTS Program Accountant (Sheridith Weston-Benta) and the Deputy Manager of the Strategic Activities Fund (Ruth Turner) also began work during the quarter. And, responding to USAID’s request to allocate more level of effort to risk reduction activities, Chemonics fielded Lead Risk Reduction Specialist Keith Ford late in the quarter. Mr. Ford is working on COTS on a three-quarter time basis.
USAID approved the COTS Grants Manual toward the end of this quarter, enabling COTS to utilize this mechanism to support program implementation activities. COTS expects to award its first grants in the next quarter to local private sector organizations in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica to support their development and to strengthen their ability to effectively represent their membership in dialogue with the public sector. Chemonics will be submitting a request to USAID to expand the type of grant mechanisms to be used so that COTS can also support a targeted range of activities in the public sector.
Chemonics has been working closely with USAID since February to make the necessary adjustments in the program budget to reflect the expected $8 million overall reduction in the life of project budget. COTS has delayed implementation on certain activities and anticipates reducing the scope and/or eliminating other activities pending final resolution with USAID of budget allocations and program priorities. Chemonics anticipates that USAID will finalize program priorities early in the next quarter so that Chemonics can finalize realignment of program activities, and work with USAID to complete a budget and program modification to reflect the changes. Chemonics understands that USAID will need to officially notify host country counterparts in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica of the reduced program budget and the realignment of program priorities.