by Shawn Cumberbatch
Prohibitive import duties and mediocre Government facilitation are frustrating a Barbadian company operating one of the world’s best known restaurant franchises here while simultaneously costing the island substantial investment and employment opportunities.
Senior officials of Alfundi Investments Limited, the company which brought American brand Subway here almost three years ago, said their “mandate” to open 14 branches here had been stalled through no fault of their own.
Alfundi directors Frederick George and Simon Elias outlined the challenges today during an interview with Barbados TODAY, with George disclosing that while there were now two outlets of the restaurant at Lanterns Mall in Hastings and the more recently opened Trident House branch in the City, they had lost three other opportunities “because we could not get a decision where we could move forward”.
The businessmen have been lobbying Government for an ease on the 184 per cent duty they have to pay to import items required for their Subway operation here.
Additionally, George said inadequate business facilitation, including delays by the Town and Country Planning Development Office and other departments had also frustrated the expansion effort.
“We at Subway are determined to offer the Barbadian public a choice of healthier food and as such, world class standards must be adhered to, so that our customers could obtain the best products at a reasonable price,” George said.
“The facts are that with the unsustainably high tax structure imposed on many of the items imported by Subway Barbados – unavailable in the local or CARICOM market at present – it is impossible for our business to expand and grow to its full potential. This tariff structure is tantamount to restraint of trade.”
George said it was time for Barbados to eliminate its “high outdated tariffs that current exist”, as it committed to in 1995.
“These bound rates on agricultural products were put forward by Barbados in 1995 at the Uruguay Round reform and were to be gradually reduced over a 10 year period. The vast majority of the other Caribbean countries, which also have an agricultural industry have already adhered to this promise and currently implement rates of 20 per cent to 50 per cent, whilst Barbados has maintained its exorbitant rate structure of 184 per cent since 1995. These are the facts,” he said.
But beyond this, George also saw a need for the island to “take steps immediately to facilitate the growth of businesses, entrepreneurship and enterprise by being more business friendly”.
“When you are in business you have to have plans, … you have to plan ahead, you must know what you are doing otherwise your business does not become viable anymore and every other outlet that you have suffers because one is bleeding,” he said.
“So when we go and we spend time to select locations and we are ready and we are waiting for something to come about because we have done everything we can do and we are running one of the best operations in the Caribbean as far as Subway is concerned.
“You need to facilitate businesses to create the employment, if you don’t have that you are not going anywhere – you are making it worse and worse.
“The thing is we are not saying we are going to import everything, we are trying our best but we can’t create miracles. We have to raise our standards, our standards in service, our standards in quality of goods and everything.
“All Government has to do is create the opportunity so that young people can use their abilities, but you don’t shut off everything. You go to Town Planning and you take eight months to get something and then they lose your file? Come on, where are we going? Are we serious or are we jokers in this place?” he asked.
Elias said Subway currently employed 34 people “directly” and was ready to increase this number, but could not manage this easily in the current difficult business environment. [email protected]
by Shawn Cumberbatch