Global trade is challenging in many ways for businesses operating in small open economies such as Barbados, but a CARICOM trade negotiator has suggested the time is ripe for them to exploit new opportunities.
The digital, blue and green economies together with disruption in social media and robotics were opening a window for firms in Barbados and the region to penetrate global markets, suggested Joel Richards, Technical Advisor with the CARICOM Secretariat’s Office of Trade Negotiations.
“We are seeing some positives in terms of digital transformation, new sectors like the blue economy and renewable energy which can take us forward, and advances in social media platforms and robotics have disrupted our traditional ways of doing business,” Richards said.
He was addressing the graduation ceremony for the latest participants in the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation’s (BIDC) Export Readiness Programme at Bagnall’s Point Gallery in Pelican Village.
More than a dozen goods and services firms were being recognized for completing a four-month training course on how to rise to the standard of export-readiness.
Richards said, “We are prone to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, and given our small size, one natural disaster could set us back decades by destroying the infrastructure and our production base.
“A return to protectionist policies from the bigger international markets, along with new developments like the update of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the UK’s pending exit from the European Union are significant to CARICOM countries owing to the uncertainty they have created.”
The analyst noted that internet trade now accounts for 51 per cent of all global trade, with social media advertising reaching up to a billion people on Facebook alone, which is “undermining traditional storefront operations, but at the same time is attracting new entrepreneurs who can be more flexible.
“You can also design items in one country and have someone in another part of the world produce them, and instead of trying to enter an export market, why not consider entering a licensing agreement with someone in that country to manufacture your product?”
Regarding renewable energy, Richards suggested that if Barbados were to reduce its fuel bill through greater use of renewable energy, “it could plug a foreign exchange leak and reduce its overall trade deficit for goods and services”.
Barbados racked a $620 million fuel import bill last year, while the island ran a $600 million-plus deficit in the trading of goods which exceeded the $1.4 billion surplus recorded in the services trade.
He also urged the participants to consider our CARICOM neighbours along with non-traditional markets like Africa and Asia and Central and South America.
One of the participants, Andrea DeSouza of Anja Holistic Sanctuary said the export-readiness programme was “a thorough business course, which did not only focus on export requirements, but also touched on general business operations, finance management, personal development and human interaction. We have been given an invaluable resource and tools with which we can move our businesses forward.”
The Export-Readiness Programme is part of the BIDC strategy of boosting the nation’s export growth in China, Western Europe and Great Britain, North and Central America and Latin America.
The course comes against the backdrop of the Government’s urgent rebuilding of foreign reserves, noted Minister of International Business and Industry, Ronald Toppin.
“Penetrating these markets is done via a range of instruments as well as practical and promotional approaches which pave the way for seasoned exporters, as well as those new players represented in the graduands here today, who are enthusiastic about exporting goods or services but are hamstrung by inherent business barriers to growth,” he said.
In a bid to overcome these barriers, instruments such as Memoranda of Understanding (MOU’s) were utilised and leveraged by BIDC to optimise benefits from target markets, said the international business minister.
BIDC had signed MOU’s with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and with the AMPP Group for and on behalf of The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, he said.
He added that within the region, memoranda were in place with the Suriname Business Development Centre, the Dominican Republic’s Business Support Agency – Export & Investment Centre of the DR Pro Dominicana, Export St. Lucia and the Guyana Office of Investment.
“Our goal and our intention is to ensure that our exporters are equipped and ready for the export market so that they can add value to the economy,” said BIDC Chief Executive Officer Sonja Trotman.
She commended the “very valuable training programme” that helped successful exporters plan and prepare. As the BIDC was constantly looking for ways to improve the course, she urged feedback from graduates.