COMPARED TO ITS counterparts in the region, including Guyana, Belize, and Suriname, Barbados is not blessed with rich natural resources. And when stacked up against Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, it is not considered a major manufacturer.
In recent decades, Barbados has earned, and indeed continues to earn, its living largely through the services sector, especially tourism and international business and finance services.
The main export over the years was sugar, and its sibling rum. Barbados is now earning much less from sugar, and while millions of dollars continue to be made from rum exports, this sector too, has been challenged.
So that Barbados is generally not considered a major exporter and in fact imports a lot of what it consumes, especially food.
Exports still play an important role, though, especially considering that Barbados needs foreign exchange to survive, and selling items overseas contributes to such earnings.
But just how are Barbados, and its Caribbean neighbours, faring at a time of economic difficulty, and one in which there are suggestions that exports, and trade overall, are challenged in this part of the world?
In Barbados’ case, indications are that there will continue to be a major regional focus of future export efforts.
This goal was signalled by Minister of Industry Donville Inniss earlier this year as he reported on a Barbados Investment and Development Corporation trade mission to St Lucia, Grenada and Guyana.
Noting that Barbados exported items worth $259 million to CARICOM countries between January and September 2015, he said: “We expect that on the current trajectory we will certainly exceed that in 2016 where we are estimating to get up to $285 million in exports to the CARICOM region from Barbados.”
He saw the region as a stepping point towards a wider export focus.
“We need to increase the export of goods and services from Barbados worldwide. We certainly believe that we have to start with the Caribbean region, which is indeed the largest export market for goods and services from Barbados and certainly the one that offers the greatest potential to increase our exports in.”
The Barbados Private Sector Trade (BPST) team subsequently released information showing that CARICOM was Barbados’ most important export market in 2015. The private sector exported in excess of BDS$238 million worth of goods under the rules set out in Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, it said.
The BPST also pointed to extra-regional exports. Exports to the United States, Europe and Canada amounted to $54 million, $46 million and S$13 million, respectively.
BPST, which is an arm of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA), said the BPSA would “continue to encourage private sector exports”.
There is a view that Barbados and other Caribbean states should focus on what most would consider non-traditional areas if they want to maximise their export potential.
This is a view shared by Caribbean Export Development Agency executive director Pamela Coke-Hamilton.
She identified the creative industries as one area to be pursued, noting, for example, that 90 per cent of royalties for Caribbean music was not collected.
Speaking about trade generally, she added: “If we’re serious about the global marketing and positioning of Caribbean brands, we have to present our products and services before the eye of the international business community.”
Trade challenges are not restricted to this region alone. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) said growth in the volume of world trade was expected to remain sluggish this year at 2.8 per cent, unchanged from the 2.8 per cent registered in 2015. Its economists expects global trade growth to increase to 3.6 per cent next year.
“Trade is still registering positive growth, albeit at a disappointing rate,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said.
“This will be the fifth consecutive year of trade growth below three per cent.
“Moreover, while the volume of global trade is growing, its value has fallen because of shifting exchange rates and falls in commodity prices.
“This could undermine fragile economic growth in vulnerable developing countries. There remains as well the threat of creeping protectionism as many governments continue to apply trade restrictions and the stock of these barriers continues to grow.”
He suggested that “WTO members can take a number steps to use trade to lift global economic growth – from rolling back trade restrictive measures, to implementing the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement”.
“This agreement will dramatically cut trade costs around the world, thereby potentially boosting trade by up to US$1 trillion a year.
More can also be done to address remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers on exports of agricultural and manufactured goods,” he said.