SMA Awards Show Continued Progress.
SAINT Lucian manufacturers have been urged to continuously raise the bar of excellence for their goods and services if their companies are to remain viable and compete in the competitive global market.
The renewed call came at the St. Lucia Manufacturers Association’s third biennial Quality Awards held at Sandals Halcyon last Saturday evening.
Several companies were awarded trophies in various categories that seek to foster improved business practices and competitiveness, including Leadership, Implementation of Standards and Best Practices, Product and Consumer Service Quality, Human Resource Development, and Social Responsibility. The Minister’s Award for Innovation, President’s Award for Excellence and Lawson Calderon Eco-Manufacturing Awards were also handed out.
SMA’s President, Ronald Ramjattan, who owns Baron Foods Ltd., said the awards help to strengthen companies’ management systems and standards and operating procedures by adopting the performance excellence module based on an internationally-comparable system for managing an enterprise to obtain excellence.
Ramjattan thanked the government for providing manufacturers with the requisite incentives and for its efforts towards making doing business easier. However, he said that while the reform process towards the ease of doing business remains a slow one.
The SMA President said the awards programme follows the strictest standards of judging, adding that the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards (SLBS) was involved in the third party audit throughout the entire judging process for the first time this year. He also praised manufacturers for their high quality products as the SMA continues to implement requisite standards in the sector.
This year’s list of eighteen awardees performed impressively, Ramjattan said, with diamond rating, the highest standard, being the most crowded level in all categories.
Ramjattan told the awardees that quality and standards are the bedrock of the manufacturing sector, which contributed an estimated EC$273.5 million into the local economy last year. He said that while certification of standards remains costly, competing at the international level demands it.
The SMA President said despite start-up companies’ access to savings and unsecured loans from other sources that support their innovation, it takes more than that to truly realize a business’ optimal potential.
Ramjattan believes that the private sector’s role remains crucial: managing the strategy for doing business and driving business growth.
“Private sector OECS business growth may result from (1) entrepreneurs in the making with innovative ideas, (2) start-up businesses and (3) existing businesses with rebirth spin-offs or scale-up potential,” Ramjattan said. “It is my firm belief that sustainable economic growth in the OECS can only be achieved by penetrating the global market one successful innovative business after another. When the OECS wins, we all win.”
Guest speaker, Executive Director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export), Pamela Coke-Hamilton, praised the SMA for playing a key role in developing a favourable business environment for manufacturers. The awards programme, she said, demonstrates Saint Lucia’s seriousness about its exporters who excel.
Saint Lucia came in for high praise from Coke-Hamilton, who said the island has seen the single-largest growth in export development, access to grants and access to finance, getting over 21 grants under the 10th EDF in the areas of food security and food processing, in general grants and also branding and packaging.
“It’s always extremely encouraging when a country takes what they’re doing seriously,” Coke-Hamilton said. “I’m singularly impressed with what Saint Lucia is able to pull off because you have made the decision to do it.”
Coke-Hamilton said there is a high demand for Caribbean goods globally, including China, with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) interested in the region having a single Caribbean brand that markets unique Caribbean products. A UK-based company, she added, is also expressing interest in Caribbean-branded products.
Despite such interest being placed on Caribbean goods, Coke-Hamilton said the region still has many challenges to overcome, including becoming export-ready by addressing the areas that are critical to the exporters.
Statistically, the food and beverage sector accounted for 58% of total manufacturing in Saint Lucia in 2014. However, the island’s food import bill continues to remain high. In 2013, Saint Lucia imported US$592.7 million worth of goods and services, with food comprising 23% of that amount. The challenge for regional businesses is tapping into potential industries that can produce similar goods, thus reducing the food import bill.
Coke-Hamilton said tourism should be strategically linked to the manufacturing sector to create economic opportunities for businesses. While the local tourism sector recorded steady growth figures in recent years, she said such growth should encourage the manufacturing sector to become more dynamic by tapping into linkages.
While standards and regulations, branding and packaging, and knowledge of market opportunities remain key concerns and limitations for the region’s private sector, Coke-Hamilton cited Baron Foods Ltd. and Viking Traders Ltd., with whom Caribbean Export has had a longstanding relationship. The two Saint Lucia-based companies, which set up shop here over the past three decades, serve as role models.
“They represent, in my opinion, the kinds of SMEs that our region needs. Caribbean Export has supported both of these companies,” Coke-Hamilton said. “But what we find incredibly heartwarming, encouraging and invigorating about these two companies and their journeys is that they’ve taken the support received to catapult them to new levels, which is what export development is all about.”
The manufacturers also received congratulatory words from Minister for Commerce, Emma Hippolyte, who said SMA’s Quality Awards dovetail with government’s developmental goals towards improving competitiveness and export potential.
“Each one of you has the blueprint for excellence and has demonstrated that you all have a common focus on the future and a passion for performance improvement,” Hippolyte said.
She assured manufacturers that within the next few months, government will be embarking on implementing of a new transformational strategy to create a public structure that is better suited and aligned to the new functional imperatives of the private sector.
She added that through the Trade Export and Promotion Agency (TEPA) and the International Trade Centre (ITC), a new national export strategy for Saint Lucia will be developed soon.
The Commerce Minister implored manufacturers to never compromise on quality, especially in an era of business underscored by trade liberalization and globalization. In the end, she said, consumers are looking for value for money.
“Companies must put management systems in place and assure consumers that the best practices have been employed in generating a particular product or service,” Hippolyte said.