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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Eddie’s duty-free highway to economic success

Pat Hoyos, [email protected]

NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Eddie’s duty-free highway to economic success

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EDDIE ABED, as we noted before in this space, has lately been finding his voice as an outspoken commentator on the obvious ills faced by the Barbados economy. I’d like to congratulate him on being re-elected on May 31 to serve a second year as president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

But even as his voice in representing the chamber on the economy grows stronger and more confident, you can’t touch Eddie Abed when it comes to Bridgetown. On that topic his voice is at its truest.

That is why it is significant that, under his leadership, the BCCI is again pushing for the turning of our beleaguered capital city, along with the slightly forgotten Speightstown in the north, into duty free, half-VAT-free zones. It is a dramatic initiative, but Eddie and his Dreamers may be right that, at this stage, what else can you do to save these two urban centres from their impending economic doom due to the disappearance of the middle class shoppers (whom Eddie nostalgically calls “the driving class”) from their stores and restaurants?

He said the fact was simply that “Bridgetown as a commercial centre is spiralling rapidly to the point of low significance,” with a recent poll by the organisation showing that in 2014 there were 1 200 businesses in Bridgetown employing 5 500 people, compared with 2 000 businesses employing 8 500 people just four years earlier, in 2010.

Radical treatment of the patient was therefore sorely needed, and the BCCI says it has once again submitted proposals to the Ministry of Finance to “permit businesses resident in both Bridgetown and Speightstown to offer for sale goods at duty free prices and 7.5 per cent VAT to all customers once the transaction is done in foreign currency.”

You will note the capital letters supplied courtesy of the BCCI. This means not just tourists visiting the country but Barbadians too.

Mr Abed, who heads the Abed group of companies, and whose flagship store on Swan Street opened in the mid-sixties, said he himself had spent the last 35 years working in Bridgetown and had “seen first-hand the lustre of our capital city dim year by year.”

In addition, many cruise passengers were now picked up and returned to the Bridgetown port without access to the capital, and this seems to really annoy Eddie Abed, who says all visitor tours should begin and end in Bridgetown locations with shuttles to and from the port.

I am all for giving these two towns the kiss of economic life, but I thought it was illegal for any country except the United States itself, to make U.S. currency legal tender. The VAT-free zone legislation might have to be based on the Barbados dollar (officially).

Also, I don’t think Eddie is referring to the increasingly mounting “sin taxes” on liquor and tobacco products being included in his duty free calculation,  but I do agree with removing all those taxes on brand-name clothing, perfumes and other items. Import taxes on food and furniture are also unjustifiable, but we can get back to them later.

Taking Eddie’s duty- free highway would provide a boost to Bridgetown and Speightstown, and I am all for it.

But remember, there will be pushback from the suburbs and the other towns, so maybe we could do it for a couple of years, and then see if to expand it islandwide.

Patrick Hoyos is a journalist and publisher specialising in business. enail: [email protected]