by Emmanuel Joseph
More than 500 Barbadian jobs in the manufacturing and agricultural sub-sectors will be in jeopardy if the Government implements a suggestion by a foreign restaurant franchise to reduce the food import tariff on certain produce from 184 per cent to 20 per cent.
That position emerged during a joint press conference between the Barbados Agricultural Society and the Barbados Manufacturers Association at the BAS headquarters, on Beckles Road, St. Michael this afternoon.
The heads of the two organisations were responding to a recent call by Frederick George of Alfundi Investments Limited, which operates the two local Subway Restaurants, to allow his company to continue paying 20 per cent tariff on its importation of food materials instead of the 184 per cent, the business was just asked to pay.
But Chief Executive Officer of the BAS, James Paul, explained that the lower rate which Subway was paying, was a mistake within the system, in that the higher tariff had been in place for a long time now.
Paul and Executive Director of the BMA, Bobbi McKay, agreed that the 184 per cent was “something” they had to fight for in order to protect local manufacturers from unfair competition by foreign investors, whose products were heavily subsidised and who got very little of their items from local sources.
Paul and McKay told reporters that farmers, feed producers and others in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors may have to send home workers and shut down, because they would not be able to compete with foreign businesses, which were already heavily subsidised.
Paul announced though, that the BAS and BMA had made representation to the relevent ministries to support them in their stand to keep the 184 per cent tariff in place as a protective measure for local businesses. The BAS CEO disclosed that the Government had given the assurance that the higher rate of duty would be retained.
“We are not here to belittle the efforts of Mr. George. The fact is he is here at a time when Barbados is experiencing difficult economic times; and we feel that it is necessary for us to have all hands on board, and we want to emphasise that generally within the private sector, as you would see between the BAS and BMA, we’ve had a collaborative relationship that tries to ensure that we have all sectors on board, to the extent that if any issues come up that affect each other, we work together very closely in terms of trying to address them,” asserted Paul.
He said their aim was to ensure their members were protected. The agricultural sector’s spokesman sought to make it clear that the rationale behind the high duty was to ensure there was a level playing field for local producers against commodities made in foreign lands.
“What is generally acknowledged in our agricultural sector is that generally, the products that we are competing with in Barbados are products that are produced cheaper, yes, they also receive heavy subsidies, to the extent that our Government, historically has not been able to provide the agricultural sector with the same level of subsidies to … those provided to agricultural sectors in Europe, those in North America and also even in Canada,” added Paul.
He said Barbados therefore felt it had to provide some other level of protection, which came in the form of the tariff. The chief executive officer also rejected the statement by the Subway management official, that Barbados had the highest tariffs in the region.
He urged the official to sit down with his organisation and the BMA and discuss any challenges his restaurant may have regarding the supply of local produce. [email protected] ††
by Emmanuel Joseph