SINT MAARTEN PHILIPSBURG – The St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce & Industry (COCI) Board last week Wednesday met with Dutch State Secretary for the Interior and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops regarding the country’s rebuilding efforts and the role of the private sector.
The key message brought forward by both parties after the meeting is that the country has many opportunities; both parties can work together to facilitate in further developing and building up the country’s human resources, expertise and business capacity in the form of strategic relationships, and business matching as a means to encourage joint ventures.
The Chamber told Knops that it is ready to continue to take the leadership role in business development based on the concerns of the country’s business community in lobbying on behalf of its constituents for policy and legislative changes that would encourage and facilitate business growth and development for the long-term.
The next step to be taken is to organize a joint activity in the form of a business-mixer within the next six-months based on the momentum that has been nurtured.
President of the COCI Board Benjamin Ortega stated that the content of the meeting was very encouraging and appeals to the business community to come forward to show interests in what areas they would like to pursue in the growth and development of their enterprise.
It was pointed out that additional improvement and strengthening of small-medium sized businesses was key to the long-term sustainability of this sector to the national economy. Areas identified during the meeting was capacity building, training, exchange of knowledge and best practices to build business development – soft skills.
State Secretary Knops said he is willing to facilitate organizing a trade mission for Sint Maarten businesses to the Netherlands, and also meeting with COCI constituents to hear their views, experiences and learn about their best practices first-hand, adding that the sky is the limit for opportunities for Sint Maarten’s private sector.
Based on recent activities to build back better, training sessions were held initially on Sint Maarten, Curacao and Aruba, and it was evident to see that there is a growing interest of local businesses that are interested in learning more about World Bank procedures. More training sessions are being planned out that will give indepth information and guidance of the process of tendering and procurement procedures.
These sessions until now has been organized by COCI, the World Bank, National Recovery Program Bureau and the Dutch Representation Office. COCI indicated and reiterated their commitment to ensure that all businesses wanting to play a role would be given equal and fair opportunity through knowledge sharing, joint venture matchmaking opportunities and continuous updated information.
During the meeting, Knops was briefed about the developments related to the Sint Maarten economy post-Irma; the increase in the number of new businesses that opened in 2018; that there were less business closures or those listed as inactive when compared to 2017; and the five key business sectors that grew, eg. Construction, Foundations, Retail Stores, Restaurants and Transportation.
The Dutch State Secretary pointed out to the board that every time he visits – every three to four-months – the country, he sees improvements taking place throughout the private sector adding that things are going in the right direction.
It was stated how personal savings and insurance monies were invested in order to rebuild back better and stronger and to kick-start the economy leading to a pick-up in business activity.
COCI will tap into Dutch entities that it met with during its working visit to the Netherlands who can assist with capacity building and networking with larger companies. These are The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KvK NL and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RvO) and the Entrepreneurs Association (ONL).
The Netherlands Enterprise Agency is a Dutch government organization which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy that stimulates entrepreneurs in sustainable, agricultural, innovative and international business. It aims to improve opportunities for entrepreneurs by strengthening their position and helping them realize their international ambitions with funding, networking, know-how and compliance with laws and regulations.
The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce officially registers companies and gives advice and support, similar to what COCI provides companies and legal entities registered in the commercial registry.
ONL voor Ondernemers, is an entrepreneur organization in the Netherlands that is the voice of the business community. It’s a lobby group that looks at the interests of the business community and lobbies government and other entities about laws and regulations that could impact the business sector.
The Chamber Board members explained to State Secretary Knops that Sint Maarten has shown resilience where the private sector pushed forward to get the economy going in order to stabilize economic activity and job security.
The Board also informed Knops about its Inclusion theme adopted in early 2019 which aims to enhance the engagement with COCI registrant members through improving the level of participation. Inclusion also entails working together at the Kingdom level in order to develop and facilitate initiatives that would benefit the local business community.
The COCI working visit to the Netherlands is a clear indication of the Inclusion theme at work where the wealth of information and knowledge gained during the visits to the different business-oriented entities and organizations will lead to new initiatives in St. Maarten for Chamber registrants.
PHOTO: L to R: Benjamin Ortega (President of the COCI Board), Raymond Knops (Dutch State Secretary for the Interior and Kingdom Relations). Jennifer Carty (COCI Board Member), Louis Bute (COCI Board Treasurer), Anastacio Baker (COCI Executive Director), Chris Johnson (Head of the Office Dutch Representation Philipsburg), and Bertaux Fleming (COCI Vice President of the Board).