Barbadian business needs to embrace more innovation, especially digital platforms, fix customer service, and delve more into renewable energy and agriculture in order to set the economy on a path to sustained growth, Edward Clarke, the outgoing head of the Barbados Private Sector Association has said.
Clarke, who has announced he is stepping down shortly as one of the business community’s leading spokesmen, said that the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown between March and June of 2020 and the month-long “national pause” in February were particularly destructive to smaller enterprises, which make up a considerable portion of the island’s private sector business community.
He said: “We have a large number of small businesses, well over 7,500, employing over 40,000 people, which represents over 30 per cent of our labour force, so when we start to lose these businesses it is worrying, it affects wholesale and retail businesses, as well as employees and families.”
The BPSA leader said that the greatest challenge facing the private sector currently is growth. He stressed that greater use of technology and younger entrepreneurs coming into the field with innovative ideas would be a step in the right direction for the island.
“Pre-COVID, there was talk about tourism investment in medical and educational tourism, but this has slowed down. I believe the time has come for us to use our education system better to generate the services required globally,” said Clarke.
“Look at the Welcome Stamp, for example. Sometimes we have two family members working digitally over here providing services offshore to their clients, we need to compete in that market, to become known in the global digital market space.
“Now it is not something you can easily get into because technology is not cheap, but I see a lot of new people coming into the business sector and they have to drive the changes with innovation and new ideas, and that will put us in a more competitive position internationally.”
But despite suggesting renewable energy as another area to be taken seriously, the private sector spokesman expressed doubt that Barbados would reach its target of 100 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030.
Clarke said: “We need to act much faster than we have been. A lot has to be done if we want to get these projects online. There is money available, we can save considerable foreign exchange for the country through this, and a land use policy where we may have to consider blending farmland with renewable energy plants, and indeed having farms use more renewable energy solutions, is one way in which we can do so.”
He also called on Government to develop a comprehensive agricultural policy covering all aspects of the industry.
“We have enough land here to feed the country, but the question is how we manage it,” Clarke declared. “Most successful farming countries are heavily subsidised, in Barbados, apart from sugar, there is not much of that.
“While recently the Minister of Agriculture has moved to control the prices of commodities, we cannot compete in the global market on price. We must do better regarding our food security, that is, produce more food here at a competitive price and have it available year round, and also ensure that we have enough to service the tourism industry.”
He added that while he did not advocate doing away with the sugar industry entirely, it could be used to produce molasses for rum and enough sugar for local consumption.
As co-chair of the committee overseeing the Barbados Economic Renewal and Transformation (BERT) programme which Barbados entered with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) some three years ago, Clarke said Barbados has been making steady progress.
“We have been meeting the targets so far, and government has been able to negotiate with the IMF for some ease in 2021, and you will see the benefit of this in a few years time,” said Clarke. (DH)