Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has again identified high energy costs as the major challenge facing this country and he is of the view that if this situation was wrestled to the ground, a number of benefits would flow from it.
Stuart made the comments yesterday at Government Headquarters when Minister for the Caribbean in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mark Simmonds, paid a courtesy call on him.
The Prime Minister pointed out that Barbados needed about 10,000 barrels of crude oil daily, but it only produced about 1,000 barrels.
“So, there is heavy import in that area and it is compounded by the fact that the oil prices have been spiralling out of control. We have felt the full impact of that on our foreign reserves and we have been forced to fast track our emphasis on energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. Therefore, we have been putting in place a kind of architecture to promote the use of renewable energy, taking full advantage of the year-round sunshine,” he disclosed.
Stressing that Government could not do it all by itself, he said Barbados welcomed the participation of the local private sector, as well as any foreign partnerships that could be forged. He stated that the money being spent on importing fossil fuel and its various products was urgently needed in areas like lower income housing and the health care system.
“It is not for us a luxury, it is a necessity now. So, if it is possible for us to do some collaboration in that area … we would welcome discussions,” he added.
Simmonds told the Prime Minister he was “absolutely right to focus on that area because the high cost of energy is one of the main hindrances for persuading investors to come to Barbados and other Caribbean countries”.
He said it would be good if mechanisms could be found to reduce those costs, while at the same time being environmentally friendly.
“The [energy costs] complexity is not just about the technology, that is very important, but about the financing as well to make it affordable for consumers and at the same time [for investors] making a return on investments,” he explained.
During the wide-ranging discussions, Stuart and Simmonds discussed the pernicious effects of the drug trade. Stuart said there was a need to intensify training of security personnel, adding that “we are all potential losers in this [drug fight] if we don’t collaborate”. He also referred to the challenge of demand from the larger countries.
Simmonds continued: “With the increasing prevalence of narcotics travelling to South and Central America [and] unless there is more international and regional collaboration, the challenges will be greater.”
He said he was keen to facilitate greater cooperation between the United Kingdom and other countries, including Barbados and the region, to make the Caribbean a “no go” area for narcotics.
Barbados’ tourism industry was also examined and the Prime Minister informed the UK minister that Cabinet recently approved the restructuring of the tourism authority to separate its marketing and product development functions.
“We want to spend a little more time, a little more intellectual energy on developing and diversifying our tourism product so that it loses none of its freshness as we try to market Barbados as a destination to visit,” he stated.
However, Stuart suggested that countries like Barbados must try to develop self-sufficiencies as far as possible.
He added that the manufacturing sector was not contributing as much to the Gross Domestic Product as he would wish and said it would be useful to see whether there were any opportunities for synergies between the two countries in that area.
Simmonds also thanked the Prime Minister and the Government for the “very efficient and effective way” the matter involving the British couple who was recently shot in Barbados was handled.
He pinpointed the priority areas for the Foreign Office as security, prosperity and the economic agenda as well as the consular services for UK citizens and surmised that these areas were very important to the UK/Barbados relationship.