EDITORIAL: Not business as usual
The continuing malaise in the world economy and the slow pace at which the major countries are recovering from the ravages of the recession are among the complicated factors affecting our local economy and forcing us to put on our thinking caps in order to adjust our economic policy initiatives.
We cater to tourists from the major countries on both sides of the Atlantic and we sell what little sugar we now produce to European importers for the valuable foreign exchange we earn therefrom, even though our production costs are so high that it is no longer attractive to local farmers to grow sugar cane in the large quantities of yesteryear.
That we have so far been able to survive, and in some respects prosper, in post-Independence times is a matter deserving of the most detailed study. It is clearly an unstated tribute to policy-makers and technocrats who have served us during this time, but a detailed analysis of what we need to do now – not merely to survive and ride out the last waves of the recession but to forge new frontiers on which to drive our economy – is necessary.
From statements on both sides of the political divide, it is said there must be changes to the way we do business and that we have to rigorously protect our national economic interests so that the social programmes of successive governments and the safety nets for the poor and otherwise vulnerable among us can be maintained.
Now both major political parties are committed to the promotion of tourism, the development of international business, the maintenance of adequate foreign reserves and the diversification of agriculture.
But we wonder whether these pillars of the economy are enough even when further developed, given the systemic impact which changes in the international economy can have on our economic policies and adversely affect the standard of living of our people.
Some time ago, a Sir Winston Scott lecturer and Nobel Laureate told us that “small can be beautiful” and that we may be able because of that small size to seize opportunities more easily than large countries.
The question which our policy-makers and commentators, both in and out of Government, must grapple with is whether there is a sufficiently energized effort to identify those niches most suitable to exploitation by small countries.
As an example, the point has been made that the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies is a significant earner of foreign exchange and the establishment of offshore medical schools here, as well as the development of medical tourism, should bring a welcome expansion of our service sector, both efforts being aspects of international business.
But what has become of the plan to have an arbitration centre here? And further, have we sufficiently fine-tuned the provisions relating to wealthy people who may wish to retire and live here?
Such visitors would generate economic activity by hiring local help and doing business from within the island and while they must respect our laws, they may require as hassle-free a regime as possible.
Informed Barbadians will support these initiatives which have been raised in public from time to time and we urge sensible debate on these issues during the upcoming election campaign, if not sooner, so that public participation may enhance the discussions and policy.
The management of the economy, the provision of jobs, the earning of foreign exchange and the creation of additional avenues for the expansion of international business, as well as the rationalization of agriculture generally, are regarded by all Barbadians as highly critical matters in good season and in bad.
As the world economy continues to falter, the time may be ripe for year-round, non-partisan discussions, to be followed up by accelerated action on further reshaping our economy.