US gives Caribbean ‘Idea’ to boost small businesses

(Jamaica Observer) The United States will be reaching out to the Caribbean private sector and Diaspora to link US businesses with their regional counterparts through an initiative dubbed Caribbean Idea Marketplace.

Makila James, director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs at the US State Department, said the Caribbean Idea Marketplace is a business competition platform which will allow the US to engage private sector entities across the region in partnership with their governments to jump-start small businesses, while providing technical support and capital for persons wishing to do business in the region.

“It is a platform which will allow businesses to compete for grants which will allow them to start businesses in the Caribbean or bring existing businesses to the Caribbean,” James announced as she addressed an interactive online forum of Caribbean journalists last week.

“It will be a very promising initiative because we notice a lot of capacity in the Diaspora and they are eager to get involved, but we know there is a lot of red tape… this will help break down the red tape and make it easy for people in the Diaspora to find partners on the ground,” she added.

She explained that they will be looking from Jamaica’s end to identify those who are ready for international partners, and from the Diaspora’s side to see who will be ready for this arrangement.

“We will try to facilitate that through three partners, and the embassy on the ground will have a role to play in that,” James said.

She added that the current partners in this initiative — telecommunications giant Digicel, Scotiabank and the Inter-American Development bank — are expected to officially launch the programme this October.

The sponsors, she said, will jointly announce the implementing rules and regulations, while the State Depart-ment’s role will be as an advisor.

“We will consult with them on where the programmes could be most useful and to be part of the selection process,” she said.

According to James, the US is looking forward to more partners coming on board as the programme grows.

Despite the uncertainty about the raising of the US debt ceiling, James said that country’s commitments to the Caribbean are long-standing, with the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) being one such programme which demonstrates this commitment.
James explained that the CBSI is the main vehicle being used to engage Caricom in addressing the trafficking of illicit drugs, enhancing capacity for law enforcement and social justice.

“It is not enough to just intercept drug-trafficking, to catch the activities in progress, but you have to be assured that the governments can prosecute these cases successfully. So we are doing capacity-building on law enforcement, police and court assistance,” she explained.

As for the social justice aspect of the programme, James explained that this is where the CBSI is trying to address root causes by providing opportunities for at-risk youths.

Noting that the US is just as affected by the drug trade as any Caribbean country, she explained further that some US$77 million is to be allocated to fund the initiative this new fiscal year, up from the US$45 million allocated last year.

The US, she said, has worked closely with all the governments of Caricom and the Dominican Republic to prioritise how to allocate these resources.

Additionally, she said the US has provided intercept boats, communications and radar equipment as well training for at-risk youth throughout the region.

As for the age old problem of illicit weapons coming from the US into the region…. one of the biggest challenges is how to stop illicit trade in small arms going across the region.

“This is a big challenge and no one country can take it on all alone… there is nothing the US government can do without the partnership of all the countries,” she said.

The US, she said, has been working with other international partners such as the OAS and the United Nations to address this problem. She disclosed that they were also looking at tightening the licensing process because some guns which enter the country legally still end up in the hands of criminals.

Responding to questions posed on challenges in extraditing deportees, James said they have been working with governments to facilitate the smooth, humane and proper processing of people to facilitate this.

While acknowledging that it is a big challenge for countries to have to accept their nationals back and find ways to reintegrate them, James maintained that it is a law of the United States that persons are required to be deported back to country of nationality after serving time.

“It is a big challenge for some of the governments where they have small law enforcement capacity and are unable to monitor the movement, but we are also talking with the US government on how to make the process better. She explained that they are also looking at facilitating electronic documents to make it easier for countries to identify their nationals.

And as for the issue of extradition, James said the US has good co-operation with many countries in the region. Speaking specifically to the recent extradition case involving former West Kingston strongman Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, James said the resolution of that matter was only possible because of good dialogue with the Jamaican government, law enforcement and the legal authorities here.

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