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Let’s innovate

by Latoya Burnham

A little innovation and creativity may be what businesses need to implement to ensure they have a merry Christmas — at least from a revenue standpoint.

Minister of Commerce and Trade Haynesley Benn told Barbados TODAY after the opening of the new LIME Contact Call Centre on Harbour Road this evening that there will be no duty-free day this year and no designated day when VAT would be removed to allow customers to shop free of that tax, but stores and businesses could still be innovative.

“There are some people that were expecting… I heard talk about a VAT free day — that is not as easy to administer, manage and control as a duty-free day would be.

“I recognise that last year not everybody in Bridgetown could offer the duty-free day because not everybody could qualify…

“Government though considered it, we considered having a duty-free day in December but it did not gain the full support of the entire Chamber of Commerce and Industry for whatever reason, so we couldn’t. The previous one in early December last year was championed by Commerce and Trade and Industry, but this year they did not champion it, but it is not going to come off,” said the minister.

Last year those stores on Broad Street which offer duty-free concessions had a day where all customers were allowed to purchase at the rate usually reserved for tourists. This year the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry was hoping to have a similar day or some similar incentive initiated by Government and broadened to include more stores.

This announcement by Benn comes a day after businesses in the neighbouring Antigua reported resounding sales from a two-day reduction of the Antigua & Barbuda Sales Tax from 15 per cent to five per cent on “all taxable goods” on both Saturday and Sunday in an attempt to boost local business.

Some car dealers and retailers there reported robust business, although it was not the story for all.

Minister Benn’s proposal to businesses though was something similar — absorb the 2.5 per cent increase that had been implemented some years ago and allow customers to shop at the previous 15 per cent rate, just for a day.

“They [businesses] themselves have got to look at ways of generating activity through offering specials. They can absorb maybe part of the VAT. There are some retailers that can offer customers maybe 15 per cent, absorb the 2.5 per cent. They still have to pay the Government the VAT but that will create excitement and at least increase the foot traffic in the stores and through increased activities, obviously will result in higher sales. It might not result in the exorbitant profits, but if you generate sales you can still maintain a level of efficiency in the system.

“I am looking forward to the people in trade itself … not waiting on Government alone to come up with ideas, but to generate their own business ideas; be innovative,” he urged.

And innovation is just what head of the BCCI, Lalu Vaswani said would be the watchword next year.

Since their proposals were now not going to happen this month, the president of the chamber said they would now return to the table as a group in January to determine how they would proceed.

“Nothing has changed for us. We requested something and we were not successful so now nothing is on the cards. What we have to do now is meet in the new year to discuss and find a most harmonious position with which to go forward,” he said, adding that the VAT-free day was intended to broaden the benefits that duty-free stores would have seen last year.

“Business is about being innovative and some things will take a while for all persons to come on board. The important thing is to maintain that spirit in which we do things and that is a spirit of understanding and harmony,” said Vaswani.

Benn said though that indications were that sales had picked up considerably compared to a few weeks ago, but accepted they might not be as good as they were last year.

Likewise, he said his ministry and officers in charge of price controls were not seeing any exorbitant mark-ups this year, and he believed such was now a thing of the past, crediting his officers with extreme vigilance in stamping out price gouging.

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