CARICOM Exports in Cultural and Creative Services


By Elizabeth Morgan

We are often told that trade in services is the future of many countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and that Cultural and Creative Services are a prime sector for growth. In fact, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) saw this sector as one of the most likely for future growth. However, while the potential exist, this is not an easy sector to assess and is one with many challenges for small service providers.

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We in the CARICOM region associate cultural and creative services mainly with entertainment. We are quite proud of the international success of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Sly and Robbie, Sean Paul and Shaggy of Jamaica; Eddie Grant of Guyana; Rhianna of Barbados, and Nicki Minaj of Trinidad and Tobago. In music, the region has produced mento, calypso, soca, reggae and dub, among other genres. Trinidad and Tobago gave the world the steel pan and pan rhythms. In 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Kingston, Jamaica, as a Creative City of Music and, in 2018, reggae music was designated as an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” So, we have big achievements at the international level in entertainment.

Cultural and creative services, however, cover a great deal more than that. Categories  include radio, television and film production; audio-visuals; performing arts including theatre and dance; culinary arts;  fashion; interior design; among others. These services are also linked to e-commerce and to other service categories such as professional and business services, and tourism (travel and leisure).

The cultural and creative services sector is one in which application and adherence to intellectual property rights (IPRs) as covered by the agreements of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) are necessary to ensure that creative rights are protected.

At the regional level, the CARICOM Treaty covers all services that can be provided on a commercial basis, including culture and creative services. A Regional Strategic Plan for the Cultural and Creative Sector has been developed and is awaiting formal approval. I note that with Caribbean Export, the establishment of a Caribbean Creative Industries Management Unit was proposed in 2016.

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In terms of other trade agreements, the CARIFORUM/European Union (EU) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and now the CARIFORUM/United Kingdom (UK) EPA provide for trade in cultural and creative services. Cultural cooperation is addressed in a Protocol based on the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Need for data

UNCTAD has stated that the cultural and creative services are quite complex to report, measure and estimate. Data for global trade in cultural and creative services are difficult to obtain because many countries do not report specifically on these services and only publish balance of payments (BoP) data in broader service categories. This type of service data is mainly available for the developed countries.

I have mentioned in previous articles that services data are not properly collected within the CARICOM region and are not disaggregated. Therefore, apart from the information provided by central banks in the BoP which is a “lump sum” figure, it is not possible to say which services are exported, to which countries, either within the region or to third countries, and exactly how much is earned. This makes assessment and planning difficult.

Future growth

Although cultural and creative services were seen as a sector for growth pre-COVID-19, it is a sector which has been severely impacted globally by the pandemic and particularly so in the Caribbean.  A UNESCO report has shown substantial losses in this sector in 2020, particularly in entertainment, and, specifically in venue and site-based activities, such as theatres, live music, festivals, cinemas, and museums, and affecting the livelihoods of artists and cultural workers. It is acknowledged that innovation was applied to provide performances, shows, and a presence in the digital space.

CARICOM service providers tend to be small and micro-enterprises which pre-COVID already faced many challenges to compete in what is a very competitive sector globally. For example, reggae is now global and bands and performers can be contracted from a range of countries. To recover better post-COVID, these regional service providers will need even more support to address existing issues such as, training and certification, better IPR protection, improved organization and management, better application of e-commerce and other digital technologies, financing and incentives, better marketing/promotion, meeting higher standards, and generally being more professional and business-like in operations. Obtaining visas for travel has posed difficulties for some providers and may continue to do so unless visa waivers can be negotiated.

As we continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the future, I have no doubt that the cultural and creative services will rebound. CARICOM service providers have to aim to achieve improved levels of growth in all its categories. It is evident that much more work has to be done to achieve international success at sustainable levels.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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