Now that the Government has repealed the Fiscal Incentives Act, what does it have in mind to reinvigorate the manufacturing sector?
Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley posed this question as the House of Assembly moved to repeal the decades-old legislation for attracting foreign direct investment to Barbados.
He said the debate on the legislation was important but queried why it had not begun earlier in concert with discussions with manufacturers.
Atherley indicated that he was prepared to accept the Government’s need to reform the legislation to comply with international trade and business agreements.
“I understand the context in which the Government has brought this here, such as the pressure we get signing on to international conventions, which are not always in accord with our everyday realities – [World Trade Organization] agreements, [European Union] positions, [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] efforts,” he told the House.
“These have to be taken on board from time to time as countries like ours seek to compete globally. Manufacturers will be wondering what of tomorrow? We are repealing this act, but what will follow in its wake? To my mind, debate should not only be taking place in the House, but discussions outside with those on the frontline of manufacturing would help too,” he said.
The St Michael West MP lamented the two-decade decline of Barbadian industry, noting that its contribution to the economy has since shrunk in half from about 17 per cent of gross domestic product in 1990.
“Beyond that, Barbados has always been a heavily taxed jurisdiction, and manufacturing is a costly endeavour because we have one of the highest costs of electricity per kilowatt hour in the world, as well as one of the highest fuel prices per litre in the world,” he added.
Atherley warned against “putting all of our eggs in one basket” by relying on tourism, particularly since that industry was facing challenges of its own, and said Barbados must work towards developing a productivity culture.
“We must put some emphasis on training to put us in a more advantageous position, move towards greater mechanisation, seek to repurpose items instead of merely discarding them, and develop a cadre of skilled people who can repair any tools we may import to assist in the manufacturing process,” he suggested.
The Opposition Leader also expressed disappointment at the many dilapidated and vacant factories in the nation’s industrial parks, suggesting that they could be used to teach young people technical and vocational skills.