Minister of International Business and Industry, Ronald Toppin, has disclosed that government is preparing a national industrial policy this financial year that will lay out a strategy to revive the manufacturing sector.
Speaking to the media after he toured BMEX 2019, Minister Toppin reassured manufacturers that government was taking their concerns seriously, while praising the innovation displayed by exhibitors.
He said the objectives of the policy were to ensure that Barbados’ manufacturing sector not only becomes strong and competitive, but could help put the country in a more sustainable position.
“Our plan is to cease having a situation where we just respond to the issues and concerns raised by manufacturers to having a strategy for the sector, by way of a national industrial policy. We know there are a number of challenges and obstacles facing the sector; we’ve already started having consultations with the sector.
“Our objectives in all of this is to make sure we have a very highly competitive, financially strong manufacturing sector which can boost our domestic exports, create large numbers of employment, earn foreign exchange, increase import substitution and put the country’s development on a more sustainable footing through our manufacturing sector’s improved performance, and of course to deal with the alleviation of poverty,” he said.
Minister Toppin lamented that the manufacturing sector had suffered significant declines in recent times.
“Manufacturers have been crying out for a number of years now for some help. We have seen some significant declines in the fortunes of the sector, certainly in the last decade or so.
When you look at the number of people employed in the manufacturing sector, the number of companies in the sector, the level of investment in the sector and the contribution of the sector to our Gross Domestic Product, all of them have declined significantly over the last 10 years or so,” he pointed out.
The Industry Minister further revealed that government was also seeking to introduce new and larger industries to Barbados.
“In particular, Information and Communications Technology (ITC) with chip manufacturing companies and pharmaceuticals, which offers a wonderful opportunity to attract a big player. In fact, we have already been approached by a big pharmaceutical entity, and we expect to begin negotiations with that entity in the very near future,” he said.
He added that attention was also being given to reviving the apparel industry.
“There was a time when the garment industry was actually employing some 4,000 people, and last year at the end of May, there were less than 300 people, so there was a very significant decline in a sub-sector that employs 85 per cent of women,” he said.
Minister Toppin stated that discussions with industry players had already begun, and said that a national consultation would eventually take place. He also insisted that manufacturing needed to not only get back to its “glory days”, but it must surpass them.
“[Approximately] 12,190 persons were employed in the 1995 or 1996, we want to take manufacturing beyond that and to increase our domestic exports beyond where they were back then in the glory days.
“We want to have annual exports boosted significantly. We want to see a revived and excelling manufacturing sector, and we intend to do a lot of work over the coming year, starting with of course the National Industrial Policy…sometimes, you have to pause, not for long, to put a structure in place to take the sector forward on a long term and sustainable basis,” he said.