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More duty-free areas needed, says BCCI official

BCCI senior vice president Tracey Shuffler.

BCCI senior vice president Tracey Shuffler.

A senior official of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry is suggesting an expansion of duty-free shopping zones across the island to encourage foreign exchange spending and is urging Government to settle its debt to businesses in the private sector.

BCCI senior vice president Tracey Shuffler says having more duty-free zones would encourage foreign exchange spending and stressed that the high levels of Government payables to some businesses were “at crisis levels” for some companies.

To solve that latter problem, she said Government should settle the debt by widening offsetting ability or bonds/treasury bill issuance for possible discount redemption.

Shuffler made the suggestions to help put Barbados back on a path of growth as she shared her views on the economy ahead of the BCCI’s monthly luncheon on Wednesday.

She added that adopting a 24 hour business system would also help to increase Barbados’ competitiveness.

“I wish Barbados had a business environment that was truly 24 hour based. The ability to do business without costly premiums after traditional working hours would certainly improve our competitiveness. In addition the outdated paperwork associated with some government departments should be computerized and allow business people to facilitate their administrative functions at times that suit their operations,” she said.

Shuffler, who is also the Deputy Divisional General Manager – Import Distribution and Marketing at Goddard Enterprises Ltd (GEL) added that for business to survive in this economic climate they needed to consider focused export development.

“With over 50 companies operating in 22 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth at GEL has come at differing rates from the various trading divisions. This is a benefit of geographic and business diversification, but it is evident that the global economic downturn has had negative impacts on sales and profitability. Export markets are a critical part of strategy in manufacturing, particularly since overall consumer demand in the Barbados market has been relatively flat for some time and servicing other markets allows scale of operation benefits not afforded by solely servicing the domestic market,” she said.

Shuffler also noted that despite early signs of marginal economic recovery in select neighbouring territories and further afield in some developed countries, the Barbados economy continues to be sluggish.

She said this lack of recovery is of grave concern to the private sector as Barbados’ public finances continue to deteriorate, undermining investor confidence.

Shuffler lamented that several local companies were not able and in some cases were hesitant to expand at this time and instead were focusing on protecting their current level of investment. This, according to her, placed Barbados in a “catch 22” situation.

“Confidence is necessary to fuel growth but continued investment and growth strengthens confidence. The foundational element of better public finances is critical and must be rigorously addressed,” she said.

She also noted the global recession highlighted the important of retraining and retooling the workforce as it was evident that the skills necessary for competing in this global economy differed from what was required in the past.

“Some workers will need to be retrained and our younger people in learning institutions will have to be properly tooled for the future. The employment pool will have to have persons who are entrepreneurial, agile, technology savvy and have a broader cross cultural approach to business,” the BCCI official said.

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