Q: How would you articulate your government’s strategy for developing Curaçao's economy and engaging foreign direct investors?

A: Foreign direct investors are important; that’s why the previous government instituted the Curaçao Investment and Export Promotion Agency, so that we have a promotions agency that can not only organise conferences overseas and represent us abroad but also help us to identify potential growth sectors. We have a diverse economy, [including sectors] from refining to financial services and tourism.

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Those are the obvious ones, but there is also the education sector, the health and wellness sector, ICT, and the creative sector, where there is new potential that better matches our profile in the Caribbean. If you see what the younger entrepreneurs are doing, these are the sectors of the future. Therefore, we need an agency that can help us focus. That has been one of the issues: we can do almost anything and we keep trying to sell almost anything, which can be confusing.

Q: Curaçao is clearly trying to move up the value chain, as most economies are, and an important part of achieving this is the skills. What are you doing on that front? Where do you see Curaçao in the value chain?

A: We have a relatively highly educated workforce. Our language skills have always been a strength. The versatility our workforce has in dealing with clients from different continents has been a strength. But in the more digital and competitive economy we need to move to [different] skills. What we are doing now is making sure that we have the skills in different sectors. We are doing a public/private initiative to fill [emerging] employment needs in the tourism sector, in which we prepare and certify people so that they will be employable in the future. 

We need even more versatility. We tend to hold on to what we know. What we’ve been trying to do is retraining. So as more traditional sectors are transitioning to a new reality, and new sectors are opening, we need to have a workforce that can shift from one to the other.

Q: How important do you think efforts such as the Outsource to the Caribbean 2019 conference are to bringing Caribbean countries together for joint export and investment promotion?

A: It is very important. We use the slogan ‘One Caribbean’ in the Caribbean tourism organisation. We have more than 40 million consumers [in the Caribbean market]. Of course, we have our challenges when it comes to connectivity between the islands, but we have a wealth of experience, sophisticated education, a lot of diversity and creativity. Each island is unique and we have a very important diaspora all over the world, and these types of conferences help to bring it out and bring us together.

We are island people – and as a result we tend not to collaborate as much as we should. Speaking for Curaçao, we have to walk the talk and engage with our neighbouring countries. We are seeking to become an associate member of Caricom [the Caribbean Community, an organisation of 15 Caribbean nations and dependencies created to promote economic integration and co-operation among its members] so that we can engage in a more formal way with our fellow Caribbean countries.

It is time for the Caribbean to come together and market ourselves, and even though we are competitors, I believe in abundance. I believe in creating more by working together and becoming a more resilient region, because resilience isn’t just to do with climate change and disaster management; it has to do with sustainability and human capital, and being resilient as a people.

We have to be more versatile and more competitive. We can do that as the Caribbean. Some islands are doing that very well already, but if we do that in an inclusive way we can reach more and we will have a stronger brand for international investors.