e-Commerce: why is it still so underdeveloped in the Caribbean?

Although may Caribbean citizens enjoy e-commerce to buy goods and services globally, the facility is still quite underdeveloped in the region. We highlight a key reason why.

In the coming months – hopefully – the Government of Trinidad and Tobago intends to establish the requisite framework to facilitate electronic (e-) commerce in the twin-island state, Currently, legislation, such as the  Data Protection Act and Electronic Transactions Act, still need to be made effective, whilst that to address cybersecurity is still to be enacted (source:  Trinidad and Tobago Guardian). However, the National e-Commerce Strategy 2017-2021 was launched earlier this month, thus providing content and structure for all of work that is to follow (source:  Trinidad and Tobago Guardian).

The challenge of e-commerce in the Caribbean

To varying degrees, many Caribbean countries, through there commercial banks, already facilitate e-commerce. However frequently, there are considerable barriers to take-up, and typically, the facility can only be accessed by very large, well-resourced and longstanding businesses, that are already very successful.

Consistently, the challenge has been to have e-commerce services available and accessible to the point where it truly facilitates and drives the digital economy of Caribbean countries, and of the region as a whole. Hence e-commerce ought to be readily accessible by digital start-ups, for which online sales and transactions are crucial for those businesses getting off the ground. That is where the rubber hit the road, in terms of countries being in a position to begin to realise the benefits of e-commerce and more fully developing their digital economies.

Does being blacklisted hinder e-commerce development?

Over the years, some Caribbean countries have been blacklisted as tax and money laundering havens. Earlier this month, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago were included on a tax haven blacklist published by the European Union (source:  Financial Times). In previous years, many more Caribbean countries had been named, but they have since implemented measures that have gotten them off such lists.

However, to answer the question, being on any blacklist (or grey-list) that affects the banking and financial services sector is unlikely to help advance e-commerce in the Caribbean. Many of the banks already implement more stringent measures in Caribbean countries than what tends to obtain in more developed countries – where some of those banks also have a presence. There can thus be a sense that Caribbean countries are made to over-compensate with respect to the requirements that requirements that must be satisfied, which may be one of the reasons why e-commerce in the Caribbean has remained so underdeveloped, especially when the sophistication of our citizens is also considered.

Image credit:  Tumisu (Pixabay)

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