The attention of Barbadians is expected to shift, if only momentarily next month, to the role of the international business sector in Barbados and the critical contribution it has made to propping up our economy during almost two years of battering by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Granted, the pandemic has been foremost in every aspect of our lives and economy, but it must be appreciated that another equally destabilizing threat also hangs over our lives and is also expected to undermine our country’s fragile stability.
When BIBA, The Association for Global Business, stages its annual Global Business Week in October, actors in the sector, will most certainly train their attention on the bullying actions of the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Despite the establishment of the OECD to guide (or dictate) the terms and conditions of the financial centres operating in the international business landscape, the EU has, appointed onto itself, another layer of power beyond the OECD.
They have blacklisted countries using less than fair criteria and somehow, their targets have been almost exclusively small, developing countries where citizens are mostly people of colour.
We have accepted that it is the unstated desire of industrialised countries to dismantle the international business sector in our region and in other developing countries because they have no intentions of supporting a sector that deprives them in any way of tax dollars they believe should remain in their jurisdictions.
Notwithstanding that it was the leaders of industrialised countries who pushed down our throats the idea of globalization; that countries like Barbados should build sustainable industries without development funding and do so in areas in which they are globally competitive.
We accept that our international business sector has for many years been the subject of vigorous interrogation as to its real contribution to the economy.
It was rightly criticized because it has tended to depend mostly on the state to gather the statistical data needed to authenticate its importance to the economy.
The fact remains that in a sector that is anchored on highly trained experts and professionals in law and business, it is they who should have been collating their own statistics things such as room occupancy, contribution to the rental and real estate market, tax contributions, employment generation, training and cross training, foreign currency generation, and the like.
Even in the face of these shortcomings in the international business sector, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated something very significant.
Those doubting the sector’s contribution, were shocked to realise its resilience and relative resistance to most of the maladies the pandemic wrought on other areas of the Barbados economy.
BIBA officials have touted the fact that few, if any, employees in the sector lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic or had their hours of work shortened.
At the same time, when corporate taxes from other entities collapsed, it was the global business sector’s contribution to the state’s tax revenues that helped to sustain government operations.
It was noteworthy that during the media launch for Global Business Week on Wednesday, Minister of International Business and Industry Ronald Toppin pointed to the feelings of outrage those in the sector felt following the seemingly unfair decision to blacklist Barbados late last year.
“While we resented the high-handedness of the OECD, we were forced to take a hard look at some of our product offerings and recognize that, in some respects, we were in what marketers refer to as the declining phase in a product’s life cycle.
“For example, for some time, global de-risking trends had resulted in challenges for Barbadian registered entities to establish and maintain banking relationships both domestically and abroad, and this had caused a fall in international business registrations.”
As Derrick Cummins, president of BIBA, the Association for Global Business acknowledged, headwinds are par for the course for all businesses.
“Headwinds are a norm for business – for start-ups and for mature businesses, for floundering businesses and for successful businesses. . . . We must seek to sharpen the saw, so to speak, and improve our processes towards being even more resilient and robust.”
He too highlighted the global business sector’s ability to remain a largely resilient economic sector despite the pandemic.
It was no surprise therefore that Minister Toppin was effusive in his praise of the sector’s players. For notwithstanding the challenges, the international financial services sector remains a niche in which we in Barbados are highly competitive.
And so, as we have done on many occasions, we must not allow others to run rough shod over us, as they smartly disguise their destructive plans under the cover of regulation and fair tax competition.