OUR CARIBBEAN: A season of new pressures for CARICOM
THE ECONOMIES of major tourism destinations within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) seem headed for simultaneous disruptions on two vital fronts – air and sea – just when Barbados is also facing a new threat over claimed tax evasion from a Paris-based club of wealthy nations – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The pressures on the region’s tourism sector – a key source of foreign exchange and direct and indirect employment – have to do with implementation of the Air Passenger Duty (APD).
The tax is resulting in a decline in tourist arrivals from Britain and other European nations. Last Tuesday, CARICOM’s acting Secretary General Lolita Applewhaite described the APD as a “levy on the region’s development and among challenges that beset its tourism sector”.
While cabinet ministers and top tourism officials were engaged in initiatives to overcome the challenges posed by the APD, there came the disheartening news of major cruise lines cutting back on operations, if not pulling out altogether for a period, due to rising fuel costs.
Civil wars in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the nightmare in Japan, serve to further signal rough days ahead.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization has been active, in collaboration with governments, national affiliates and regional partners, to influence a review in implementation of the APD. But success continues to be elusive.
On the other hand, there seems little, if anything, that could be done at present to blunt the negative impact expected from major cruise lines withdrawing from Caribbean ports (including Barbados) for the coming summer and winter seasons.
Earlier, Barbados’ Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, had taken to Parliament a matter of national concern.
That problem relates to the claim – yet to be substantiated – by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation And Development (OECD) that Barbados may somehow be failing to honour international obligations against tax evasion by questionable practices in the functioning of the country’s international financial services sector.
It so happens that this contention by the OECD has also to be battled against by Barbados at a time when to come forward with practical alternatives to cope with the harmful effects of the APD tax and now the impending withdrawal of the cruise lines to more profitable waters.
Sinckler had explained that the battle was ongoing to secure a “clean review” of the functioning of Barbados’ international business sector and obligations on tax information sharing. Important as it is to protect the country’s national interest, the assumption is that compliance being demanded by the OECD would have to be consistent with the sovereignty of the jurisdiction.
And aware as other CARICOM jurisdictions are of the pressures generally exerted on this region, a question of relevance is whether Barbados and other affected member states would consider some common approaches to secure the so-called “clean peer review”, an idea of the OECD’s Global Forum, the legal status of which some regional technocrats and diplomats think ought to be collectively challenged.