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Helping creative industries prosper

Published:Sunday | April 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM

David Jessop, Contributor

The economic role played by creative industries significantly exceeds anything previously imagined, according to a recent report produced by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Taking 30 countries, including some in the Caribbean, the study sets out the contribution made by copyright-related industries when related to GDP, employment and foreign trade. It provides global evidence of the development potential of the sector and confirms in a wider context much earlier Caribbean studies on the subject.

WIPO's report, which applies to industries and products that can be legally protected by copyright such as the media, literature, music and theatrical productions, movies, recordings, television productions, and software, suggests that contrary to expectation, these largely newer industries already make a significant overall economic and social contribution.

In the case of Jamaica, for example, the report indicates that creative industries contributed 4.81 per cent of the island's GDP in 2007 and were responsible for 3.03 per cent of employment, while in Trinidad the figures were 4.8 per cent and five per cent, respectively - numbers that compare favourably with other national sectors such as manufacturing.

Significant opportunity

Other statistics also confirm that the opportunity for the creative sector is significant.

According to UNCTAD, the United Nations body, global world exports of creative goods grew by 14.4 per cent between 2002 and 2008 and in 2008, such exports from developing countries represented as much as 43 per cent of their total goods exports. When one removes China from the 2008 figures, developing countries accounted for 22 per cent of total good exports while exports of creative services from developing countries represented 11 per cent.

UNCTAD's figures also indicate that creative goods exports from the Latin America and Caribbean region grew from US$5.5-billion in 2003 to US$9 billion in 2008. However, of this, earnings for the Caribbean amounted to just US$57-million in 2008, with the Dominican Republic being the regional leader, followed by Barbados and Trinidad.

The challenge, according to Albert Ramdin, the assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), is how to ensure that the region benefits fully from the potential of the creative economy.

"Despite the richness of cultural expression, talent and diversity, the challenge ahead", he told a recent conference, "is how to harness our creative capacity for development, maximise opportunities (and) make the necessary quantum leap into new value added areas."

This should come as no surprise. Five years ago, Dr Keith Nurse, the director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre of UWI in Barbados, produced an important report on the creative sector in the Caribbean that set out in detail the challenges the industry faced and the steps necessary to sustain it and see it grow.

He argued that the creative industries were not seriously regarded as an economic sector, that key stakeholders were poorly organised and that its economic value went largely undocumented.

Unmet demand

There was, he noted, an unmet demand for comprehensive policy initiatives utilising legislation, regulation, programme support and tax measures. The sector lacked representation in national fora and had not developed beyond artisan levels. Support services to individuals were scarce or non-existent and cultural entrepreneurs had problems obtaining financing from the traditional banking system.

Since his report was first written, some of what Dr Nurse proposed has happened but on a far from comprehensive basis. The sector has also received a significant amount of attention from international agencies and institutions including the IADB, the International Trade Centre, the OAS, the European Union and others. However, Caribbean governments, with some notable exceptions, have yet to give the sector the attention that its growth potential deserves.

While some progress is being made in adapting and introducing regulatory, legislative and statistical/information to support the creative industries, the challenge of stimulating a creative industries sector, mostly made up of small and medium sized enterprises, remains significant.

In this context, there are a number of key constraints that need to be overcome.

Above all, protection of intellectual property remains crucial for the commercialisation of creative industries. Ensuring that adequate laws, regulations and enforcement provisions are in place to protect intellectual property remains a global challenge, given the advancements in technology that facilitate illegal access to creative material, in particular music and film.

In this respect, one helpful development has been the emergence of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Copyright Link, which allows members to pool their resources and reduces costs in support of the collection of royalties from international markets.

Lessons to be learned

There are also lessons to be learned by governments about the enabling environment for creative industries through understanding actions undertaken by the public sector in North America and Europe, and the public-private partnerships that have been developed to stimulate growth and linkages to country branding and marketing.

While the creative industries are now better recognised as a profit creating sector, difficulty is still encountered in accessing more traditional finance and business advice tailored to traditional business streams.

There is a lack of coordination among those operating in the many subsectors of the creative sector. This results in the absence of meaningful associations and a lack of advocacy resulting in the interests and needs of the sector not being fully recognised or addressed in national policy initiatives.

Because the domestic market in the Caribbean is relatively small, external distribution is crucial to significantly grow creative businesses. Access to marketing and distribution networks remains essential to the development and growth of the creative industries sector in the Caribbean.

There is also the need to understand better how management networks for creative industries can be created that are Caribbean based and can retain a greater element of the financial benefit in the region.

This year, a number of Caribbean nations intend showcasing their creative products when the Olympics is held in London. As Caribbean Export and others have recognised the games, and the publicity attendant on Caribbean Olympic achievement offers business opportunity. Hopefully, this will focus minds on a sector that as WIPO and others before have demonstrated has the potential to create new growth in the region.

David Jessop is the director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at