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Pathbreaking Forum On Creative Industries
By Mi2N
(more articles from this author)
2004-11-14
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Participants lauded the recently concluded forum on creative industries and trade. "The workshop has been a tremendous success. It was very well attended, having brought together a diverse group of stakeholders in the regional creative industries. Importantly, this unique forum has enabled them to conceptualize and outline the interests of the industries, and identify how they can be brought forward to the negotiating table as regards the region's external trade negotiations effort." This was the view of Mr. Ian Randle, a participant in the forum and a leading regional publisher.

The Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) conducted a two-day 'Regional Workshop on the Impact of Trade and Technology on Caribbean Creative Industries' that took place in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on October 28-29th. The activity was part of a CRNM project on the creative industries funded by the European PROINVEST/TRINNEX program for the private sector. The workshop brought together key stakeholders involved in the cultural or creative sectors (music; performing/visual arts; motion picture and video; publishing; fashion/glamour; radio, television and cable broadcasting) from across the Caribbean to examine the culture-trade interface, and discuss issues of common and specific concern.

The workshop was opened by Hon. Diane Seukeran, Minister in the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Trinidad and Tobago. The feature speaker was Michael 'Ibo' Cooper, one of the founding members of the award-winning and internationally acclaimed music band Third World. The RNM's Services Trade Specialist, Mr. Ramesh Chaitoo, and Mr. Anthony Smallwood, Head of the Delegation of the European Communities to Trinidad & Tobago made welcome remarks.

Mr. Cooper gave a spiritually powerful presentation in which he highlighted the historical evolution of Caribbean culture and its emergence on the world market. He pointed out that the richness of the "Caribbean culture" stimulates great creativity in a range of areas and we should harness this to improve the lives of Caribbean peoples. He also stressed that the creative sectors provide the best means of engaging youths in the Caribbean and guarding against hopelessness and crime in some societies. But the creative industries need to be embraced by governments and recognized for their contribution to Caribbean society and economy.

A common theme throughout the workshop was that the region's creative industries are already very important and have the potential of adding significant new economic value to Caribbean economies. External trade negotiations must provide avenues for maximizing trade in creative sectors by securing greater and wider market access for Caribbean cultural goods and services. But at the same time, domestic policy space must be maintained for governments to support this sector. In this regard, there was a spirited discussion on the regulatory aspects and the commercial policy environment of Caribbean countries and their effects on the creative industries. Numerous workshop participants stressed the urgent need to put in place the appropriate regulatory and policy measures for an enabling environment for creative industries to realize their full growth potential. The workshop unanimously agreed that the effective protection of intellectual property rights is critical to the success of all creative industries. The attitude of the banking and financial system towards intellectual capital also needs to be addressed urgently since creative firms seldom have physical capital or collateral. The lack of access to finance is a major constraint to the further growth of this sector.

The conceptual framework for these deliberations was a presentation by Mr. Chaitoo that provided an overview of the main elements of services trade negotiations relevant to the cultural industries in which the Caribbean is involved.

Leading international experts and executives invited as resource persons as well as key representatives of Caribbean creative industries and businesses brought perspectives on trends such as digitization and the global convergence of information and communication technologies and their implications for music, entertainment, visual and performing arts, publishing, and new media industries. The intention was to draw lessons from other countries for the region's creative industries on a range of cross-cutting and sector-specific issues.

The panel discussions focused on: the music industry; audio visual industries; business development in creative industries; publishing; glamour/ fashion; and dance, theatre and the performing arts. There was spirited discussion of the potential of e-commerce to transform the way in which the region's creative industries penetrate international markets, in light of the advances in ICT in recent years. This medium can make up for many of the capacity and scale-economy constraints of small economies. However, the CARICOM region is missing out on international opportunities for its creative sector because of inadequate ICT infrastructure and the high cost of telecoms. The workshop highlighted the experience of firms that have successfully penetrated foreign markets. Mr. Kama Maharaj, of Sacha Cosmetics, a discussant on the Panel on Business Development, Financing and Private Investment in Creative Industries, underscored that this Trinidad and Tobago firm is effectively competing on the world stage, and is sought after to provide cosmetic products and services to internationally renowned beauty pageants. Four winners of the Miss Universe competition have used Sacha's make up. He noted that the company's cosmetic products and services are in demand because of their high quality, brand recognition, innovation and because of Sacha's investment in cutting edge technology for their Web site, "enabling a myriad of e-commerce opportunities." Furthermore, the success of Sacha's cosmetics among women globally is as a result of the diversity of Caribbean ethnicity and culture, and local research and development in Trinidad and Tobago. The publishing industry in the region also has several success stories with little support from government; but they face obstacles in their normal business operations in customs, shipping and other areas. For instance, while books do not attract tariffs, the materials used in the publishing industry such as paper are taxed and this affects their competitiveness. This has resulted in the movement of printing operations overseas. The workshop revealed that while 350 magazines are imported into the region, there is nevertheless inspiration in the stories of the only two magazine exports from the Caribbean – MACO and SHE Caribbean. They are each produced by visionary, enterprising and hard-working young women in Trinidad (Neysha Soodeen) and St. Lucia (Mae Wayne) respectively and are now exported to numerous countries.

While the Caribbean music industry has achieved significant international influence and success, industry representatives argued that this flagship creative sector suffers from inappropriate government policies. For instance, very high intra-CARICOM tariffs on music CDs increase costs, act as a disincentive to legitimate sales of music in the region and lead to piracy.

Mr. Lawrence Duprey, head of the CL Financial Group, which has diverse investments in many sectors across the Caribbean including creative industries, also presented his insights on what this sector needs to succeed. He spoke highly of the potential of the region's creative industries, noting that "they represent the growth industries of the future" but they need clear recognition and support from political leaders now. Mr. Duprey said that "music, as a key sub-set of the creative industries, is one of the only industries that are able to penetrate markets at relatively low costs, and therefore as a medium it is key in building global brand recognition for the Caribbean." It is therefore incumbent that regional governments effectively support the creative industries through incentive programs and the necessary enabling environment with respect to financing institutions, given their critical role in adding new economic value to Caribbean economies.

The issues raised and the recommendations gleaned from the workshop will form the basis for more specific and directed interchange between Trade Ministries, Ministries with responsibility for culture, and creative industry stakeholders. The aim is to better develop an understanding of and craft development policies and trade negotiating positions regarding the culture-trade interface.

The CRNM workshop team consisted of Mr. Chaitoo; Ms. Jan Yves Remy, Services Analyst; Ms. Lisa Callender, Private Sector Liaison; Mr. Nand C. Bardouille, Communications Officer; Ms Carol-Ann Kinch and Ms. Andrea Taitt.

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