A push is being made for Barbadian businesses to consider trading and investing not only in the international sector, but with CARICOM countries. According to Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Sandra Husbands, Barbadian businesses need to view CARICOM countries as areas fertile for trade and investment, and must become export oriented, in quick order.
Minister Husbands made the statement during a virtual Trade Forum hosted by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), under the theme: Expanding Trade Between Barbados, Suriname and Guyana, Identifying the Challenges and the Opportunities.
“Barbados’ trade is highly vulnerable and therefore the lives of citizens and the stability of the country is at risk when earnings depend on a narrow set of goods and services in a narrow set of markets. Our limited geography and population size makes us highly dependent and therefore it is, or should be automatic that all businesses look to export because continued growth of your business and the Barbadian economy cannot occur with 300,000 people,” Minister Husbands stated.
She added: “If we are to avoid further injury to consumers who are forced to pay more and more for the same goods, expanding regionally will build scale and reduce cost, allowing us to work towards extra-regional trade with competitive goods and services.”
The Minister with responsibility for Trade noted that Barbados realises the importance of trade and investment and that within the last couple of years, the country has been seeking to improve and broaden its trade and investment relationship with traditional and non-traditional trading partners, including CARICOM countries and extra regional partners. However, she noted that those efforts were “curtailed” by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we are to avoid further injury to consumers who are forced to pay more and more for the same goods, expanding regionally will build scale and reduce cost, allowing us to work towards extra-regional trade with competitive goods and services.”Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Sandra Husbands
To increase efforts in deepening trade and investment among Barbados, Guyana and Suriname, Government has established a Tri-partite Sub-Committee on Trade with Barbados, Suriname and Guyana. This Sub-Committee will be critical in attempting to resolve many of the barriers to trade, which are affecting those countries, and will also seek to build the much needed partnerships among major companies and entrepreneurs, as well as encourage investment.
Minister Husbands strongly believes that the time is now for the region to come together; pool their resources and work together for the betterment of each other. “It must start with a vision; a vision which the young people of our countries are willing to aggressively pursue, and it must be buttressed with our financial institutions extending a hand to assist these potential business owners,” she emphasised.
She thanked the BCCI for hosting the forum, noting that it aligns with the thrust Government is making to further diversify the economy, to create new opportunities for new entrepreneurs, as it forges ahead to open new markets by securing more and better trade agreements.
At the outset of the virtual trade forum, Chairman of the Tri-Partite Sub-Committee, Lalu Vaswani, informed participants that the purpose of the forum was to gather critical information from local exporters on transportation capacity challenges and any other impediments to trading with Suriname and Guyana. It would also identify potential opportunities to increase trade among the three countries.
Senior Vice President of the BCCI, James Clarke, expressed the hope that upon conclusion of the discussions that participants would identify not only the challenges to trade among the three countries, but that they would also provide viable solutions that could inform the way forward for the three countries to deepen their trade relationship.
To give an idea of the recent trade patterns among the three countries, Mr. Clarke shared some statistics. He reported that Barbados presently enjoys a merchandise trade surplus with Guyana, exporting $59 million in goods to that country in 2019, while importing $19 million in goods from Guyana in that same year.
He noted that back in 1998 Barbados’ exports to Guyana were only $7.2 million, and despite declines in 2016 and 2017, the total value of trade between Guyana and Barbados had grown during the period 2015 to 2019.
In reference to Suriname, he said that Barbados has a merchandise trade deficit with Suriname. However, data for the period 2015 to 2019 showed an increase in the total value of Barbados-Suriname trade.
“..businesses must seize the opportunities provided under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and turn negotiated market access into meaningful market penetration.”Senior Vice President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, James Clarke
He noted that goods exported from Barbados to Suriname increased during that period, and in the latter year, Barbados’ exports to Suriname peaked at $11 million. That was the only year, during that period, when Barbados enjoyed a trade surplus with Suriname.
Currently, Barbados’ main exports to Guyana are building cement, wheat products, printed paper, plastic bags and sweet biscuits, while its main exports to Suriname are building cement, household aerosol insecticides, rum, electric lamps and fittings, oil cake and other solid residues of soybeans.
Looking towards the future, Mr. Clarke stated: “The promise of closer intra-CARICOM trade will remain within the realm of aspiration, unless we take bold steps to make it a reality.” He noted that governments have a facilitatory role to play in promoting trade, for example, negotiating trade agreements and creating an enabling business environment.
“It is only by identifying and tackling existing barriers and challenges that we can grow this tripartite relationship in a mutually beneficial way. Expanding trade among our three countries will not only deepen our economic and commercial bonds and promote intra-regional trade, but can boost jobs and the economic growth greatly needed to propel post pandemic recovery and development for our countries and the region,” Mr. Clarke emphasised.
However, he pointed out that businesses must seize the opportunities provided under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and turn negotiated market access into meaningful market penetration.
Yet, despite those opportunities, some barriers exist that prevent some businesses from moving ahead. These include logistics and freight costs; competitiveness; lack of mechanisms to facilitate commercial relationships; sanitary and phytosanitary measures, cultural barriers and intra-regional transportation.
Although these obstacles exist, participants identified some opportunities in the trading of goods and services, such as in the professional and financial services; agriculture and agro-processing; renewable energy; tourism; telecommunications and the movement of skilled persons.
The consensus at the trade forum was that it was time to stop talking about Barbadian businesses exporting their goods and services, and to start implementing the necessary measures that could facilitate steps in that direction.
Therefore, if Barbadian businesses are to be sustainable, they must seek out new avenues for expansion, and make every effort to strengthen their existing trade relationships.