by Kristen Ku
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 2, 2023
The wheels of regional economic development are turning with increasing momentum as Belize once again positions itself at the forefront of Caribbean economic strategy and innovation. Dr. Leroy Almendarez, the Executive Director of the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE), has recently been re-elected as Deputy Chairperson of the Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA), an achievement signifying Belize’s rising influence and commitment to Caribbean integration and economic prosperity.
Dr. Almendarez’s re-election follows a series of high-level strategic discussions held in Jamaica and The Bahamas from October 18th to 27th. These forums, which brought together over 40 different countries including from North America, are crucial in shaping policies and practices that will drive the Caribbean towards a greater entrepreneurial ecosystem and greater economic resilience.
At the “Sub-Regional Policy Dialogue: Ecosystems of Entrepreneurship and Innovation” organized by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Jamaica, Dr. Almendarez provided a critical perspective on the success factors shaping the Caribbean’s innovation and entrepreneurship. He shared Belize’s experiences, focusing on social innovation and the transformative role it plays in inclusive development.
Further cementing Belize’s proactive stance, Dr. Almendarez participated in the Caribbean Investment Forum (CIF) 2023 in The Bahamas, held under the theme, “A Bold New Caribbean.” The forum highlighted the region’s economic potential, with Dr. Almendarez advocating for investment in digital technology and sustainable practices.
In a candid interview, Dr. Almendarez expanded on his presentations and the direction for Belize and the Caribbean at large. “We have been doing quite a lot of work in terms of training, things like digital marketing, a green economy, a blue economy, an orange economy, and energy efficiency practices. That’s what CEDA does as well; and so, our contribution, bringing not only the best practices, but in conversations and advice based on what Belize is doing,” he said.
The emphasis on digitalization, particularly following the challenges posed by the pandemic, has positioned Belize as a model of adaptability and innovation within the Caribbean.
Dr. Almendarez noted that Belize’s initiatives are well-aligned with CEDA’s objectives, particularly in enhancing operational efficiency to improve regional competitiveness. “We have a Competitiveness Month, and international standards and certifications. Those are things we’re also focusing on,” he stated.
Addressing his re-election, Dr. Almendarez acknowledged the collective efforts that led to this outcome. “I must say that it has to do with the work that we have done, that your colleagues feel that you could undertake, you know, such a leadership position in the region,” he remarked.
During the interview, Dr. Almendarez delved into Belize’s innovation roadmap and initiatives like the female entrepreneurship program, which have significantly impacted local and regional economic empowerment. He proudly discussed the national MSME roadshow, which took innovation and financial management strategies directly to entrepreneurs across ten different locations within Belize.
On a practical note, Dr. Almendarez shared insights into the core challenges and lessons learned in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship within the Caribbean context. He stressed the importance of a cultural shift towards innovation, adequate infrastructure, and access to affordable financing as important ingredients for success.
The interview also covered the significance of collaborative action among Caribbean nations. Dr. Almendarez emphasized that avoiding duplication of efforts and resource wastage through regional strategies is essential for macroeconomic growth and MSME development.
His re-election as Deputy Chair of CEDA not only symbolizes a collective trust in Belize’s leadership but also reaffirms the country’s commitment to driving forward a united and dynamic Caribbean economic agenda.