Delays in Government decision-making and manufacturers giving up production to turn to importing inferior goods, feature as some of the roadblocks to the local industry as the Barbados Manufacturers Association (BMA) celebrates 50 years of existence.
BMA President Karlene Nicholls brought these issues to the fore at the organization’s 50th anniversary cocktail and awards gala at Sweetfield Manor, Brittons New Road, St Michael on Saturday night.
“Of grave concern to us is the developing trend by former manufacturers, with apparently little loyalty or respect for the sector, of flooding the Barbados market with cheap, poor quality imports,” she said.
This practice, Nicholls said, is “all to the deterrent of local producers and manufacturers”.
“In nothing less than betrayal, those who once sought our support and experienced our struggles have heartlessly become instruments geared towards our breaking,” she added.
Nicholls said further development of manufacturing in Barbados is dependent on a partnership effort that involves pooling resources, sharing best practices and supporting each other.
With such an approach among manufacturers, the BMA president said: “We will become a cohesive force that drives our national economy, and one to be reckoned with on the world stage.”
But in an apparent reference to government bureaucracy and slow movement to protect local industries, she added: “Too often the delays we experience in having decisions expedited when the livelihood of manufacturers is being threatened, are really unacceptable. Whether [the issue] is t-shirts or burgers … we need to protect our market and ensure that our manufacturers and producers are not disadvantaged.”
“If we don’t protect our own, who will?” asked Nicholls, the Sales Manager at ADM Barbados Mills.
“It sometimes appears as though we are bent on exporting our jobs and contributing to the taxes, deductions and building the economies of others while our own at home suffer.”
Nicholls touched on an often heard call from the manufacturing sector, for a level playing field in production of goods.
“We know that we must be competitive and we are prepared to compete, but it is difficult to do so when countries with subsidies that we can only dream of flood our markets with products that we all know disadvantage us,” she said.
Speaking at the event, Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss threw out an invitation to manufacturers to tell Government what they feel about industry conditions and to do so fearlessly.
“I say, as minister who liaises with the Barbados manufacturing sector, you need to be as engaging as you possibly can be. Never feel that you are a bother . . . to any Government minister, any ministry, or any department. We need to hear from you,” he said.
“I also say to you, do not be afraid to speak out or speak up. . . Feel free to always speak your mind. Never feel that you must cower in a corner.”
He sought to make clear that his Cabinet colleagues and other elected members of Parliament on the government benches welcome frank feedback from those involved in the industry.
“You know there are some very thin-skinned politicians who anytime an organization says something that goes against what they believe is right or offends their ministry or attacks their ministry, they would want to pick up the phone and quarrel with someone and seek to shut you up. That doesn’t happen in the Government that I am part of.”
But he also warned that complaints must be grounded in facts, supporting what manufacturers claim to be wrong, and suggesting how it can be fixed.
“You need to be very research-focused and to bring evidence. We really cannot be groping in the dark, and I believe that the mechanisms are in place that allow for this kind of research to take place . . . Many of the organizations in Barbados need to ensure that they’re very research focused in their work.”
As he congratulated the producers on attaining a golden anniversary, he suggested that they chronicle their history for the benefit of Barbadians in years to come.
“This journey is one that must be captured, not just in a few pictorial displays and a few speeches here and there, but [it] really merits thorough research and writing. I am therefore making a call for us to capture well, the history of the manufacturing sector in Barbados,” he said.
“Write something constructive . . . that captures the vision of the political leaders over the past century or so the kind of individuals who would have led this revolution and the kind of impact that the manufacturing industrial revolution would have had on our economy and on our society.”