Government policymakers have been called on to urgently address a number of challenges standing in the way of further growth of the international business sector.
President of the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) Connie Smith called on the Central Bank to develop a new strategy for the sector. She also urged the Office of Public Sector Reform to put in place new benchmark guidelines to which Government agencies must adhere.
Smith made the call today in an address to the Central Bank’s Fifth Annual International Business and Financial Services (IBFS) conference. The theme was IBFS: Innovate, Believe, Fashion, Strategize.
She said while Barbados had “all the factors” to develop the sector and continued to show positive signs of growth each year, authorities “must remain ever cognizant of the challenges that threaten to undermine our growth potential”.
Most recent figures show that Barbados continues to attract new international business company registrations, in excess of 400 annually since 2007. There were 240 active international insurance companies in Barbados and 32 international banks at the end of 2014.
“We must remain ever cognizant of the challenges that threaten to undermine our growth potential and unfortunately some of the more major challenges are not of our own making,” Smith said.
“The changes made to the domestic taxing environment in Canada last year have had a significant effect on the market segment that we have historically enjoyed. This is reflected in the number of entities currently holding banking licences.”
Smith said some BIBA members were increasingly raising concerns with the organization about hurdles they and their clients faced when doing business with local commercial banks.
“The strict requirements being imposed on international business clients by commercial banks is as a result of the risk profile with which Barbados is viewed by the international corresponding banks that mediate between the local commercial banks and the global financial community,” she said.
She said it was “an extremely untenable situation” as Barbados sought to fulfill a mandate to become the international business and wealth management centre of choice in the Western Hemisphere.
“It also does not bode well for our attempts to expand our treaty network into Latin America and Africa and to attract more business from those source markets,” said Smith.
“I think that it is time that we refresh our strategy in terms of expanding relationships beyond our commercial banking sector, and I am offering BIBA’s support to the Central Bank of Barbados in leading the development of a new strategy to attract new players into this arena.”
Smith also noted that if Barbados wanted to keep the new businesses it attracted and hold on to those it already had, an improvement must be made to make it easier to do business on the island.
Smith said the recent implementation of guidelines for all public sector employees by the Office of Public Sector Reform was “a step in the right direction”, but suggested that it should go a step further.
“We need to put service level agreements in place that guarantee clients in the public and private sectors certainty of process when they engage with a business facilitation agency,” Smith said.
She added: “I would encourage that office to undertake, as its next project, to produce bench marking guidelines for government agencies, especially the client-facing ones, so that there are standards to which they can be held accountable. Our judicial, business incorporation and immigration systems are the first places that I would recommend we start.”