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Protect foreign reserves

Dr Frances Chandler

Protect foreign reserves

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Tough times call for tough measures, and those times are here. Minister Sinckler reiterated last week that we must put Barbados first. He also noted that macroeconomic policy must be anchored around foreign exchange. It’s difficult then to understand why franchises like Subway and Burger King, which appear to rely mainly on imported materials, would have been approved in recessionary times.
 Furthermore, I would have thought that we already had enough food outlets, and it would make more sense to encourage expansion of these (which seem to be doing all right using mainly local materials) even to the point of exporting, rather than bring in new players from outside. Do these franchises have a net positive effect on the country, considering the use of foreign exchange for imports and the remittances abroad?
Some argue that visitors must have the foods they are accustomed to. I interact with a number of Canadian visitors each year and have never yet heard one order a hamburger. They rave about our fish and are high in praise for local chicken and pork. I trust that the discussions on the tariffs will have a positive outcome and that the well-being of two fast food franchises will not be put ahead of Barbados’ well-being.
Local manufacturers should be given the chance to supply the franchises with the required product, but although investment in the equipment necessary to meet their specifications (although I understand that these have not even been made clear) may seem feasible on the surface, what guarantee do they have of firm orders for suitably large quantities of product in the long term? I am sure the manufacturers will proceed cautiously after their bitter experience with the short-lived McDonalds.  
The matter of tariffs on chicken wings has also been raised. As far as I am aware, a controlled quantity of chicken or turkey wings, necks and backs has been imported by Government over the years to ensure that the lower socio-economic group has access to a relatively cheap source of protein. But their use has become widespread, finding their way into fast food outlets, delis, cocktail parties and so on. I’m sure the Chronic Non-Communicable Disease Commission would agree that they are not the most nutritious food item, so why should their increased use be facilitated?
I would have thought that the CEO of the Small Business Association would  be the last person to call for less protectionism, although I note that she excludes her “neck of the woods” i.e. micro-businesses in her argument. Ms. Holder, in the grand scheme of things, we have few, if any, large businesses in Barbados.
Successive Governments have signed on to all sorts of agreements that result in local companies competing on a playing field which is far from level. While we slavishly follow the rules of these agreements, those who created them flout them daily. They subsidize their agriculture and control the entry of products into their countries, but we must open our doors to the world. While we quietly accept all these rules to our own detriment, there are international movements against World Trade Organization arrangements, especially as they relate to agricultural products. In the present situation, it is not only a case of protecting our businesses, but also our foreign reserves.
Local manufacturers must be as efficient as possible and try to expand into export. But even then they are often stymied. The legislation and laboratory facilities necessary to allow the export of fish, dairy and meat products into the European Union, which we have been hearing about ad nauseum, is yet to come to pass. Hence a leading chicken producer with proven ability to supply the quality required has had to refuse a considerable order of product because of this deficiency.
Trading with CARICOM is difficult too. The recent impasse with Trinidad and Jamaica is still fresh in our minds. When will we learn that we must look after our interest first when dealing with the global community and even with CARICOM?
In my opinion, too much foreign exchange is wasted on unnecessary items. In the present circumstances, the use of foreign exchange should be prioritized, and where appropriate, importers should have to purchase a certain dollar value of local product to entitle them to foreign exchange.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]

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