With expected disruptions in global trade as a result of the COVID-19, Government officials are working around the clock to ensure that new opportunities are in place for Barbados to source some items from the region.
Cabinet was expected to examine and approve proposals regarding trade on Thursday, which should then be shared with relevant stakeholders.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has been working closely with officials in Suriname to ensure greater use of existing trade agreements between the two countries including the Brokopondo Programme for Co-operation 2018-2021, aimed at strengthening relations between the two countries.
During a meeting at the ministry’s Culloden Road, St Michael office on Thursday, which brought together some local firms and officials from Suriname to have discussions, Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Sandra Husbands called for greater use of the CARICOM Interactive Marketplace and Suspension Procedure (CIMSuPro).
The CIMSuPro is a web portal that was developed several years ago, providing a one-stop-shop for regional buyers to find products made in CARICOM, while serving as a platform for the application and approval process for suspension of the common external tariff.
Common external tariff are on all goods that come from outside CARICOM while goods produced in CARICOM are zero-rated, meaning they do not attract the import duties.
Insisting that there was need for greater use of the CIMSuPro platform, Husbands said Government has been busy in recent times trying to link more local companies with suppliers and other firms in Suriname.
She said the need was even greater given the threat of the COVID-19, which has already killed thousands of people worldwide, caused major declines in travel and has started to disrupt global trade.
“Today as we are looking at trade, we all know that on the ground at the moment worldwide is the COVID-19 pandemic that will kind of complicate trade relations, and this is something that is taking up the interest of the Barbados Government,” said Husbands.
“Shortly, Government will be releasing its plans both in terms of health and particularly in terms of how we are going to keep the economy balanced so that we don’t derail ourselves but that we can continue on a path to weather the storm and be able to resume growth,” she said.
Pointing out that trade between Barbados and some of its major trading partners depended on how each country would respond as a result of the COVID-19, Husbands pointed to recent closure of some production facilities in China where the virus emerged.
“They have only just started resuming some of that production of essential supplies. It means that our supply chain network can be disrupted, and therefore it is imperative for all companies to investigate what is the potential impact if certain industries are closed or if countries take on a national response that prevents the continued production of inputs on exports that we are going to need to keep our businesses afloat,” warned Husbands.
“This is why Suriname is important,” she said. “It means that if CSME is to mean anything in a crisis of this nature, our companies now have to look towards CARICOM to source alternative supplies. This, I believe, could present a tremendous opportunity if we can grab it while it is available to upscale our production when production in other places might be declining as countries develop their national response to the coronavirus.
“I believe if in this moment all of us who are trading in the region can use the CIMSuPro more effectively by investigating what is available in the region by putting out our requests for what we need, I believe that we can heighten trade among our CARICOM members and thereby help us to weather the impact of Coronavirus on trade in the region,” the Minister said.
The establishment and deepening of relations between Bridgetown and Paramaribo is being led by Barbados’ special envoy to Suriname Senator Althea Wiggins.
She said since the signing of the Brokopondo Programme for Co-operation 2018-2021, there has been trading in fruits and vegetables.
She expected trade in the agriculture sector and mining industry would increase in coming months.
Wiggins noted with hotels refurbishing or building, the partnership formed between Barbados and the Surinamese government-run mining firm Grassalco, would be very critical.
She expected that instead of products coming from Europe including granite, it would be sourced from the CARICOM nation instead.
“As you know, President Trump has banned all air travel from Europe and God knows how long that will happen,” said Wiggins.
“If we were to take advantage of all the businesses we have in CARICOM we would reduce our food import bill. We would reduce the amount of foreign exchange that is being leaked out of the country to go extra regionally, because the prices in CARICOM would be a whole lot cheaper. So this Brokopondo project is really taking off faster than we have envisaged,” she said. [email protected]