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Caribbean Business Conference Kicks Off on St. Thomas

Nov.11, 2005 – Caribbean nations have to band together to save their market. This was the theme at opening ceremonies for the 10th Annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference, held at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas.
The ceremonies and events were well attended Friday, as about 200 representatives for various Caribbean nations and the mainland gathered to discuss how to stimulate economic development in the region over the weekend.
"It’s really about us all coming together," Virgin Islands Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards said to the audience. "We in the Caribbean all have so much in common — similar foods, dialect, interests. Now it’s time for us to share similar goals."
Richards said action should be taken to form a comprehensive plan to deal with issues relating to foreign competition, education, health, and youth culture. When anything bad happens on a Caribbean island, such as the disappearance of the American student in Aruba, the entire region is blamed for it, he said.
"Those are the kind of things that really hurt us the most, the kind of things that make us see that we need to work together and stand up for ourselves as a group," Richards said.
He also listed what he thinks are the top issues in the Caribbean, including the need for more parental support and discipline for children, the adverse affect federal boating and immigration regulations are having on the tourism industry, and the instability of a social climate racked with crime.
"We really need to move together to improved our social and economic livelihood," Richards said.
Denzil Douglas, prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, also advocated for collaboration throughout the region, as foreign competition has been taking away business from the Caribbean. Larger sugar exporters, for example, have forced St. Kitts and Nevis to pull out of shipping sugar to Europe — an industry in which the island has participated for the past 300 years.
Smaller islands have also been adversely impacted by competitors producing high-quality, low-cost services and products, Douglas said. Companies in India and China are advancing in technology that the Caribbean doesn’t have or understand and shipping products that the region does not have the infrastructure to support. Douglas added that St. Kitts and Nevis is currently trying to cultivate its agricultural industry by producing bananas, but has been hindered by trade laws and fruit producers who offer products to companies at half the Caribbean’s price.
To solve these problems, Douglas said neighboring Caribbean islands have to invest in one another.
"If specific medical services are offered in one area, for example, then others in the Caribbean can travel to use those services and vice versa — keep the money in our region," he said.
Douglas said the Caribbean needs to build institutions to train its residents in major industries — such as tourism and technology — and form partnerships between Caribbean governments and businesses, as well public and private sectors.
"That way we will be able to provide quality services, and the government can play a more active role in what happens to the economy with the public sector helping to develop the infrastructure and provide support."
Virgin Islands Sen. Lorraine L. Berry rounded out Friday’s opening remarks by stating that the territory in particular could take more advantage of its links, especially to various investors, on the U.S. mainland.
"Here in the V.I, we’re very insular in our thinking. That’s why our economy continues to limp along," she said.
Berry also said Douglas has openly invited Virgin Islanders to go to St. Kitts and Nevis to invest.
"Thousands of people from the territory are linked to St. Kitts," she said. "If we are able to go over there, establish businesses, generate revenue — that could finally lead to a breakthrough for Caribbean integration."
Conference events will continue throughout the next two days and will include various workshops on pertinent regional issues, public forums, and fun community activities.

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