Fast food chain Burger King has made a direct appeal to Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss for a break from the whopper of a tax burden imposed on it over a year ago.
However, Inniss would not bite after Ralph Bizzy Williams, the chairman of Burger King Barbados, told the minister last night his New Year’s wish was for a reprieve from the excessive import duties.
Addressing last night’s Williams Industries Inc 2017 awards dinner at the Almond Bay Caterers in Hastings, Christ Church, Williams stopped short of saying that the 82 per cent increase in duties on some of the products that it needs was crippling the local operation of the Florida headquartered American global chain of hamburger fast food restaurants.
However, he challenged Inniss “to address us to let us know what we can expect from Government” next year.
“Of course we would like the excessive duty of 102 per cent on the products we have to import for our Burger King restaurants reduced back to 20 per cent and the restoration of the bound rate of duty reinstated on steel imported from extra regional sources,” Williams said.
It was at the beginning of September last year that the duties on some Burger King processed chicken products, including chicken breast, patties and nuggets, which local producers could not supply, rose from 20 per cent to 102 per cent.
At the end of November 2016 General Manager Ryan Walters had told Barbados TODAY that while the company had initially absorbed the additional cost, it could no longer afford to do so since it was taking a huge financial hit as a result of the massive increase.
At the time Walters had declined to say how much the company was losing as a result of the increased duties. However, he said the local franchise holders Restaurant Associates Barbados Ltd were in discussions with local producers in a bid to have the meat processed here to international specifications.
Walters had also reported that the relevant authorities had already been written to requesting a reduction.
Williams last night opted not to go into detail about the development, saying instead that because it is the festive season “we won’t mention those things again” during the event.
“We are here to give thanks for our blessings, and enjoy this evening,” he said.
However, while Inniss said he had heard the calls, he absolved himself of responsibility and chose instead to shift the discussion to the way businesses operate here.
He said over the years Government had been too protectionist in its approach, thereby stifling creativity.
“From my end in Government, and certainly as this is the festive season and we all like to bring good news and cheers, but I am not the Minister of Finance or the Prime Minister. Therefore, I will stick to my narrow corner. I have heard the calls for the reduction of rates of duties on inputs on some products, and the truth of the matter is that we in Barbados have to make a paradigm shift in a lot of the things we do,” Inniss said.
“I am concerned that we have had a so-called industrial development over the last 50 years that has grown by high protectionist measures on the side of Government, and my concern is that high levels of protectionism dampers creativity and innovation. And I believe that the state really needs to unshackle the minds of our people.”
In fact, the minister made his own New Year’s wish – that the high level of taxes here would be reduced.
“As I look towards the future of Barbados it must be one that is not driven by high levels of taxation [and] duties, especially on items that we have to import for the needs of Barbadians. Therefore, you have my assurance that as long as I am here, whether it is up to election or even ten years afterwards, that I will work steadfastly to ensure that we are able to reduce the level of taxation because if we don’t do that we are going to continue to breathe a level of mediocrity in the industry of Barbados,” the minister vowed, while encouraging local enterprises to be more innovative and creative and to “produce a lot more in Barbados to meet the demands of the world”.
Lauding the Williams group of companies as trailblazers in a number of areas, Inniss said like that company others in Barbados should “stop depending on the state for everything”.