Not fair

Manufacturer pleads for level playing fields

One local manufacturer has complained that “unfair” competition from regional and extra-regional goods was costing it valuable market share in Caribbean Community (CARICOM) markets and hurting its earnings. And Roberts Manufacturing has called on Government for help in creating a more level playing field.

Managing Director Jason Sambrano said the 71-year-old company was being forced to compete with cheaper products from extra-regional producers who had lower production costs and in some cases, subsidized by their own governments. He cited as an example a dramatic drop in sales of one of his company’s product in Dominica as a result of competition from a similar product that originated outside of the Caribbean.

Jason Sambrano
Jason Sambrano

“And these are the products we have to compete against, not only here, but out in some of our markets where we were strongest. In the OECS [Organization of Eastern Caribbean States] where some of the markets have been liberalized and you have extra-regional products coming in without paying any sort of import duties . . . their cost on the shelves is actually below our landed cost to the island. So we have markets like Dominica where we were selling a lot of oil and overnight we went from selling a lot of oil to none,” said Sambrano.

The Roberts manufacturing executive explained that local companies also operated in a business environment where costs where higher than those of competing producers, and emphasized the need for Barbados to lobby other CARICOM governments to ensure that “our goods are treated fairly”.

“These are the challenges that we would have to get assistance from Government in terms of lobbying COTED [CARICOM’s Ministerial Council for Trade and Economic Development] and so forth in terms of making sure that the products coming from these areas pay the requisite duties that are required to make sure it is a level playing field. I don’t think we are asking for any favours or favouritism. We just want to compete on a level playing field; compete on the quality of the products,” he said, adding that many consumers have said they prefer the quality of Roberts Manufacturing products, but they were forced to choose price over quality.

Sambrano today hosted Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss and officials of Inniss’ ministry, officials from the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) and members of the media at the Lower Estate, St Michael facility.

He said the company exported about 68 per cent of its margarine and controlled ten per cent of the local market share for cooking oil.

“Obviously our export markets are key to our survival. We can’t survive on the local market alone and obviously we are competing with other companies from other jurisdictions that are not only within CARICOM. We have competitors from Argentina, Turkey on the oil side, margarine is coming in from Malaysia,” he explained.

The managing director said the company, which currently employs about 120 people, had not gotten to the point where it had to cut staff.

“We don’t want it to get to that stage, that is why we are aggressively looking at strategies of where can we go to improve our market share and sales. We cannot sit in a corner and cry. We have to go out there and compete and get out there and see where we can look for the niche markets in different areas.”

Meanwhile, Inniss gave the assurance that Government was committed to helping Roberts Manufacturing and other manufacturers to continue to maintain, and where possible, expand their share of the domestic market as well as in the regional and international markets.

“Of course, the dynamics of world trade today are such that there is a lot more freedom or less restrictions on trade and therefore we cannot, as the state, impose barriers to entry that perhaps we could have done before, except in specific circumstances,” he said.

“But certainly we have to use moral suasion and we have to ensure that competing products entering our space come in a manner that helps to ensure there is a level playing field. In other words, that we are not receiving goods that are being dumped into our marketplace, we are not compromising on the quality of the products that are being imported. That is why our standards setting and adherence are very critical as well, and that the appropriate and correct tariff headings and tariff rates are applied to the products coming into the market,” explained Inniss.

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