Buying Caribbean

A new campaign to boost regional products in consumers' minds is being supported by this year's annual Caribbean trade fair in Barbados. Jo Kingsley reports

  • Illustration by Gregory St. Bernard
  • CEDP's logo for the Buy Caribbean campaign

Caribbean consumers have traditionally been reluctant to buy the things their own manufacturers produce – much to the surprise of visitors who purchase Caribbean-made clothes, jewellery, canned fruit, handicraft and other products, without complaint. Now, Caribbean governments are trying to change this bias on the part of their own people through a vigorous “Buy Caribbean” campaign, which should be in full swing by mid- 1993. Business visitors and others will probably see evidence of it on television and public billboards across the region.

The campaign has been given added impetus by the trade liberalisation policies that the region is being forced to introduce, in line with international trends. Tariffs are going down to a maximum of 20 percent by 1998, and Caribbean manufacturers fear their once-protected regional market will be swamped by imported goods.

Whether this will happen or not may depend on the effectiveness of the Buy Caribbean campaign, whose promoters are hoping their efforts will not be hampered by inadequate funding.

The Buy Caribbean (BC) campaign is being organised by the Caricom Export Development Project(CEDP) in Barbados. Endorsed and launched at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference in July 1992, the campaign seeks to instil consumer confidence in Caricom-produced goods by setting quality standards which will qualify producers to use the BC logo and standards mark.

National BC committees in each participating country are in various stages of establishing the standards, Philip Williams, Marketing Unit Manager for the CEDP, told BWee Caribbean Beat. According to Mr Williams, recent CEDP research on buying patterns shows that “foreign goods have a higher profile than regional products – for a variety of reasons – and one of the aims of the Buy Caribbean project is to highlight regional products and give them a recognition factor in the region and beyond.”

To help bring this concept to the public eye, this year’s annual Caricom trade fair, CARIBEXPO 93, is using “Buy Caribbean” as its theme. Caricom’s largest trade exhibition takes place in Barbados from May 26 to 30 at the Grantley Adams International Airport (Terminal 2 building); it is organised by the Barbados Manufacturers Association (BMA) in collaboration with the CEDP.

Last year’s fair in Jamaica attracted exhibitors from some 4 countries, and interest is growing steadily. Mr Williams sees the annual regional trade fairs as “a very important tool for increasing buyer awareness of regional products.”

The exhibition brings together some 180 products and service displays from all the major productive and service sector, groups. BMA president Bobby Khan said, this year’s fair should be one of the most varied and wide-ranging to date. “For the first time we are allowing non-Caricom territories to participate and display products and services that do not conflict with Caricom goods.”

With Caricom producers displaying their goods alongside international firms, the public will see a wider range of products and will be able to make their own comparisons. Mr Khan notes: “Regional producers will see first-hand how they fit into the international arena and how our regional products and services compare with the stronger developed sectors in the world marketplace.”

A primary goal of the trade show is to open doors for new investment opportunities and joint ventures. As Mr Khan says: “The region needs to look more at internationalism in its trade fairs. The concept is to start educating the region’s productive sectors in utilising overseas resources more, and to begin manufacturing locally what is imported from the developed world. We are sincerely hoping that with the advent of displays by non-Caricom countries, CARIBEXPO can act as an incubator for investment and development of regional industries throughout Caricom.”

The advent of a highly visible and stylised membership logo backed by official standards should help to build Caricom’s reputation for quality. The CEDP has devised two slogans for the campaign, for use within the region and outside it, each with an emphasis on high standards.

The CEDP says it plans to take the logo and slogans into every consumer’s home in the Caribbean, and eventually into extra-regional markets. The intra-regional slogan reads: “Buy value, buy quality, buy Caribbean.” The extra-regional one says simply: “Caribbean quality.”

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.