THE ISSUE: Promoting efficiency, cutting costs
Predictions are that in the future electronic commerce will become the main way in which monetary transactions are conducted.
This activity commonly called e-commerce has already changed the way in which businesses and consumers interact, providing people with a convenient way to purchase goods and services, pay bills, do their banking and investing, and transfer money and interaction seamlessly across borders – wherever there is Internet access.
Some also see it as a blessing for entrepreneurs and small business people who cannot afford to purchase or rent office space or pay the utilities and other costs normally associated with such ventures. Another advantage is that all of this can be done night and day from any location once the necessary technology is available.
There is an abundance of evidence globally of this in practice, information that shows Barbados that it is not just theory. For example, “independent technology and market research company” Forrester Research Inc. recently released several reports, one of which predicted that e-commerce in the Asia-Pacific region’s five largest markets – China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia – “will soon surpass sales in North America and Europe combined”. It expected growth from US$398 billion in 2013 to US$858 billion in 2018 at a compound annual growth rate of 16.61 per cent.
In Britain, online shoppers spent US$148 billion last year, a 16 per cent increase over 2012’s numbers, while in the United States such spending was expected to reach US$262 billion last year, a 13.4 per cent increase over 2012’s US $231 billion.
Forrester also predicted that by 2017, 60 per cent of all US retail sales “will involve the Internet in some way”. While such figures were not available for the Caribbean, the company said that in Latin America e-commerce revenue in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico was forecast to grow by 135 per cent collectively, reaching US $47 billion by 2018.
If previous official statements and legislative actions are any gauge, the importance of e-commerce has not been lost on Barbados.
On March 1, 2001, the island’s new Electronic Transactions Act, 2001 was proclaimed, thereby establishing “the legal environment for the conduct of electronic commerce and the processing of electronic transactions in Barbados”.
It featured “the use and adoption of electronic transactions as a new method of transacting business but does not in any way replace or alter the traditional rules on paper-based communications”, gave “legal coverage for situations where information is electronically generated, stored or sent”, and accepted “electronically recorded documents in matters where formerly, writing was required”.
At that time, it was said that the Central Bank of Barbados had “the infrastructure in place to facilitate the automated payment system, which would make it easier to complete international financial transactions within a day”.
Information also showed that from as far back as 2002 the Central Bank issued a number of guidelines for electronic banking.
These guidelines were “intended to provide guidance on the promotion of safe and sound ebanking activities, while preserving the flexibility necessary to accommodate future technological and other changes”.
While it is generally believed that e-commerce transactions in Barbados is still relatively insignificant when compared to larger markets, successive governments have pushed the idea and listed the benefits, while private sector interests have done likewise.
Some of the e-commerce advantages these authorities have listed included reduced transaction costs, increased opportunities to do business overseas, the simplification and streamlining of business processes thereby reducing delays, and inexpensive access to marketing information, customer services and order processing.
Conversely, among the things identified as obstacles to e-commerce in Barbados were an inadequate framework for the clearance of e-commerce transactions through the local banking system, the
high cost of intra-regional shipping and an absence of a telecommunications environment that provides low cost. In recent years Barbados has made some headway on another challenge – sourcing high speed Internet access.
As for Government leading by example in all of this, in April last year Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss said there was a need for urgency in moving the island towards e-government, pointing to long lines at the Licensing Authority and other government departments.
“Our social security benefits can be uploaded to a smart card for ease of transactions. I am satisfied that in another few years all of our National Insurance Scheme (NIS) beneficiaries will be technologically savvy enough to use smart card technology,” he said.
“Likewise, as we seek to further reduce wastage, duplications and inefficiencies in our healthcare system, smart card technology that captures personal data will provide us with another powerful tool to better manage the delivery of services in our health system.”