Business confidence hits new high

Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) chairman Trisha Tannis believes business confidence in Barbados is at its highest since the COVID-19 pandemic.

She reports, however, that the private sector continues to be concerned about the “relatively slow pace of the business facilitation reforms”.

Tannis also flagged new international supply chain concerns, sharing in an interview that “we do have notifications coming down the pipeline now to expect higher than normal freight rates again”.

“I think we certainly have returned to a sense of confidence, more so than we did maybe since the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“What is needed now, though, is that we translate policy imperatives into the tangible action or mechanics that the private sector in the investing class, both local and overseas, can all put our hands on and say, ‘Okay, fine, this is how this works, this is how we take advantage of it, these are the rules, this is the mechanism, this is the agency and so on.”

The BPSA’s membership is comprised of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Barbados Small Business Association, BIBA, the Association for Global Business, Barbados Manufacturers’ Association, Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Barbados Bankers’ Association, Barbados Employers’ Confederation, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados, Barbados Coalition of Service Industries, and the Barbados Agricultural Society.

Tannis said that in the absence of any empirical data like a business confidence survey, there were “certainly a lot more interest and investment opportunities that the business community thinks are quite interesting and we can wrap our heads around”.

This was particularly in the context of the Budgetary Proposals presented in March by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs and Investment Mia Amor Mottley, which the BPSA chairman called “a private sector stimulus type approach that the Prime Minister has brought”.

“Obviously, policy pronouncements and business facilitation are two different things and clarity, in terms of how some of the incentives will work is another thing,” Tannis said.

“We have recently asked, for instance, the Barbados Revenue Commissioner, in one of her frequent updates and engagements with the private sector, for the policy guidelines, and essentially how some of these incentives are going to work.”

“So that there is clarity as to how one can go about investing in these particular areas of interest to the government, and continue to try to stimulate some much needed activity, particularly in the diversification type modus that was presented in the Budget,” she explained.

Tannis said “the relatively slow pace of the business facilitation reforms” continued to be a concern.

“We have heard about the launching of the Business Barbados initiative, there were a couple of timelines that were given, which, at least to my knowledge, have not been met. As it relates to of course, securing the CEO for that entity, and coming back to the country with some updates to the business community in terms of where we are, as far as the launch and when is it going to be active,” the business executive stated

“Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office is a big part of that and we do know that is not as simple as it sounds in terms of getting a re-engineering of processes there and getting full digitisation on board. So an update as to where that is for us that’s absolutely critical.”

She continued: “And also GovTech Barbados, that platform that integrates fully all of the Government agencies, or as many as possible, is a key business facilitation tool as well, not just for the private sector, but for the average citizen in terms of how they interact and interface with government.”

“But certainly from a corporate perspective, that is also almost just as key as Business Barbados and probably a key plank, quite frankly, in Business Barbados being as efficient as it can be.

“So in terms of confidence, I think confidence is returning. The big exposure we’re getting on the tourism side from hosting large events is also helping to contribute to that confidence, but we also do need to continue the diversification conversation, and the actualization of that diversification even within the tourism sector itself. So that we can create a 12 month tourism product and not a six months tourism product,” Tannis said.

She noted that while this summer was going to be “pretty good” for tourism, “we don’t need this summer to be a one-off”.

“Every summer we need to have a similar type of engagement to keep our tourism and jobs that are affected by the tourism sector during the offseason, alive and well and flowing throughout the entire year. So we have a consistency of income, and hopefully a more diverse tourism product, which also spins off into other opportunities and economic activity,” she said.

The private sector also has fresh concern about international supply chain issues, including those related to shipping.

“Those are always going to be a bit of a headache and just when we thought things are settling down, the latest news now, particularly coming out of China, and on the long haul sea routes, is that we are returning back to some of the same issues that we were facing in the pandemic. We do have notifications coming down the pipeline now to expect higher than normal freight rates again,” she reported.

“That has not yet hit the public but that is coming and those of us particularly in the supply chain sector have all been warned that this [challenge] is now coming back around again. Interestingly it is coming on the eve of the UNCTAD Global Supply Chain Forum in Barbados, the timing could not be either better or worse.

“But certainly it gives us a prime platform to be able to really hopefully deal with these issues in a very pragmatic basis [this] week during the conference for those parties on our side. I think we have to use the opportunity [this] week as small island developing state to really elevate a lot of these issues to the UN front in how they actually practically affect people on the ground in these very vulnerable economies,” she added. (SC)

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