There is an abundance of opportunities for U.S. businesses, especially from Florida, to export their products and services to the Caribbean Islands. “They import everything they need due to being small markets,” Sheila Diaz de Andujar, Senior Commercial Specialist for the U.S. Commercial Service in the Dominican Republic, said.
In 2017, Caribbean countries imported $22.9 billion worth of U.S. products and services according to statistics provided by Diaz de Andujar at a recent presentation on exporting to the Caribbean.
The Caribbean is comprised of 26 markets which include Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Dominican Republic. Due to the proximity to Florida and the affinity for U.S. brands, it would make sense for Florida businesses to consider the Caribbean as part of their export strategy.
With more than 30 million visitors to the Caribbean annually, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the resort, tourism and restaurant sectors provide huge opportunities for exporters. However, there are opportunities in other sectors as well. For example, there are new opportunities for U.S. telecom due to higher rates of Internet connectivity; increasing opportunities for renewable energy technologies due to dated electric grids; and construction and engineering sectors due to the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma in 2017.
The Dominican Republic (DR) offers the greatest opportunities being the largest market in the Caribbean and the number one Caribbean destination. Additionally, the DR is part of the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) which provides trading advantages for both the U.S. and DR. The DR is the second largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region and one of the fastest growing economies in the Latin American region, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Commercial Service.
Price is the biggest factor when it comes to being competitive, followed by quality, then after-sales service, but the “mindset is changing,” Diaz de Andujar said, speaking of price. Consumers will typically buy the lower-priced product, regardless of quality, but they are slowly coming around to paying more for quality. More and more, consumers are understanding the value of quality products and making buying decisions differently. This is great news for U.S. exporters since quality is the main advantage of U.S. goods over other imported goods.
One of the challenges in doing business in the Caribbean is the security concern in the region. Crime, corruption and political instability are issues that U.S. businesses must deal with when doing business in all of Latin America, not just the Caribbean.
Diaz de Andujar suggests partnering with a local distributor or agent in country who knows the ins and outs of doing business, consumer behavior and local laws. Having a good partner will reduce the presence of the U.S. businessperson in the country, thereby reducing their risk. To find local partners, U.S. exporters should consider participating in industry specific tradeshows and trade missions such as the Export Sales Mission to Santo Domingo in November 2018, organized by Enterprise Florida. This is a great way to enter new markets and meet with potential partners, while traveling together with a delegation of Florida businesses.
Lastly, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), total visitor expenditure increased in 2017 by 2.7 percent to $37 billion, making it the eighth consecutive year of growth, and CTO projects 2018 to show increases of 2-to-3 percent in visitors and visitor expenditures.
For Florida exporters looking to grow their businesses abroad while staying close to home, the Caribbean just may be the number one export destination to consider.