CoP calls on immigrant entrepreneurs to advocate for ‘supplier diversity certification status’

Meegan Scott

In a recently released trade impact assessment study, the Toronto-based Community of Practice (CoP) for Caribbean Immigrant Entrepreneurs, has recommended that they petition private industry “to include diversity portfolios that the diaspora community can leverage” and advocate for “supplier diversity certification status.”

The study further calls on entrepreneurs to target government and non-governmental programs as well as existing trade agreements offered by the Government of Canada and to monitor relevant trade deals, submit written suggestions and contact trade representatives “while petitioning for specific trade deals.”

It also recommends that they consult with Members of Parliament to advocate for inclusion in future “Mandate Letters” for the Minister of International Trade.

Findings of the study, conducted by Kisserup International Trade Roots, were delivered at the BIDEM 2021 Trade Conference.

The CoP, founded by Meegan Scott who serves as the Secretariat Coordinator, provides capacity building market linkages and a trade and research hub, aimed at reducing the “skills gap” among Caribbean immigrant entrepreneurs.

Through the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative (SBCCI), the CoP received funding to produce the study which supports “the strengthening of diaspora communities (with Caribbean and African roots).”

The study acknowledges that Canada’s Caribbean and African diaspora communities have contributed significantly to Canada’s economy with international trade businesses.

But it says that although these communities have made great strides, “there are vast opportunities to do potentially more from leveraging existing services as well as by proposing new ideas.”

The study notes that Canada has healthy relations with both the Caribbean and African regions and maintains several free trade agreements with individual countries. But while there are no regional free trade agreements with either region, there are “offerings and strategies” which the communities can leverage to build up businesses.

Canada’s trade relations in the Caribbean revolve around the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which comprises Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

As of 2019, the CARICOM countries had a surplus trade between Canada where USD 944.61 million was exported to Canada while importing USD 768.31 million.

In services, Canada’s trade revolves around tourism, commercial services, transportation, and government services.

Canada is a principal source market for the Caribbean in terms of tourism followed by commercial services, transportation, and government services. The Caribbean Tourism Organization reports that in 2019, 886,300 Canadians came to CARICOM countries with the majority, 395,561, visiting Jamaica.

Between 2015-2018, Canada’s investments in the Caribbean, including Cuba and the Dominican Republic, were valued at USD 864 million while Canadian investments into Jamaica between 2015-2019 were valued at USD 410.1 million showing the importance of this country to Canada as one of the most important trade partners in the region.

In terms of trade agreements with individual countries, Canada has investment treaties with Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. The treaty with Barbados covers meat, plastics and vegetables for export and chemicals, spirits and animal products for imports to Canada while the treaty with Trinidad and Tobago covers agglomerated iron ores and concentrates, commodities and machines and mechanical appliances for export with natural gas, methanol and mixtures of urea and ammonium nitrate for import.

The Government of Canada currently supports an inclusive approach to trade by offering funding and support programs to various groups, including women, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and Indigenous peoples, as well as scholarships for youth and services for entrepreneurs who want to get a product or service to an international market. These communities can look to the services that are offered to some of these groups if they need funding or expert advisory services “to make their export ideas happen,” the study says.

In terms of Canada’s diaspora or first-generation immigrant population, according to the 2016 census, 21.9 per cent of the population counts as first generation immigrants, 22.3 per cent count as visible minority while the country landed 1,212,075 immigrants from 2011 to 2016.

The number of immigrants is also expected to grow to approximately 24.5 per cent to 30 per cent of the population by 2036 while visible minorities will account for 34.7 per cent to 39.9 per cent compared to 19.6 per cent in 2011. This indicates that first generation immigrants or diaspora could play a larger role in trade opportunities.

However, they might require incentives and contacts to get their businesses off the ground to other markets, the study says.

Canada’s ethnic mosaic is also a comparative advantage in the effort to make the Canadian trade policy more inclusive. In 2021, immigrant-led SMEs were more likely to export (14.3 per cent) compared to counterparts born in Canada (10.8 per cent) and compared to the Canadian SME average (11.7 per cent). Furthermore, SMEs owned by migrant women export nearly twice as much as those owned by women born in Canada (17 per cent versus 9 per cent). This is likely owed to immigrants maintaining ties with the countries of origin, as well as the propensity for SMEs to operate in export-intensive industries. Canada’s vast and complex network of diasporas constitutes an internal engine that could help Canada tap into emerging markets, while also helping Ottawa reach its priorities on inclusivity, the study notes.

There are 800,000 persons of Caribbean origin reported to be residing in Canada (just over two per cent of the population) with the majority, over 300,000, from Jamaica who have also been strong partners since 1996 in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) program that allows workers to travel to Canada for a maximum period of eight months of the year for seasonal employment.

The program has expanded to include nationals from several additional countries from the Caribbean, including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mexico.

The study also notes that communities can look past the services the Canadian government offers and explore options with the private sector, which is starting to develop more sourcing initiatives to diversify their supply chain and provide business opportunities to underrepresented groups. United States-based organizations include the following:

  • McDonald’s which is dedicating a quarter of its $14 billion annual supply chain spending to firms owned by people underrepresented in business.
  • Moody’s which has pledged $2.2 million to support the Black communities where they live and work.
  • Fifteen Percent Pledge, a US-based non-profit organization, which is encouraging retailers to pledge at least 15 per cent of their shelf-space to Black-owned businesses.