“Business facilitation is a key pillar on which Barbados can build on its path toward becoming the premier international business centre in this hemisphere.”
Recently, while addressing a gathering of business professionals in the services sector, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, repeated the axiom, “Governments don’t trade, businesses do”, and then went further to add, “but Governments are expected to facilitate this trade”.
It was heartening to hear a minister of Government publicly recognise, in a gathering which also contained representatives from integral state agencies, Government’s important role of business facilitation. The Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) holds the view that in an ever increasingly competitive, globalised business environment, Barbados has to be seen to be enhancing and not retarding the competitiveness of businesses that choose to reside here. Business facilitation is a key pillar on which Barbados can build on its path toward becoming the premier international business centre in this hemisphere. According to the recently released World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report for 2011, Barbados is at the in-between stage in its transition from an “efficiency driven economy” to an “innovation driven” one. With a ranking of 42, Barbados is the only Caribbean country to lie above 50th position out of the 142 indexed by the World Economic Forum (WEF). In its commentary on the results of the report, the WEF stated: “…Barbados can still leverage its strengths in terms of its stable, transparent, and reliable institutions (18th), high-quality infrastructures (22nd), and excellent educational system (ranked 5th in terms of primary education quality, 15th for the entire system, and 10th for the quality of math and science education).” Our high-level of educational attainment continues to distinguish Barbados from its regional peers and this important advantage will be augmented in coming years by the establishment of the International Institute for Financial Risk and Regulation, which is being driven by Government in collaboration with the University of the West Indies and support from the private sector. This institution will be an important fillip to business facilitation as it promises to upgrade the skills of already qualified professionals, especially in the areas of compliance and regulation. BIBA looks forward to the transformative effect that such an institution will have on the local regulatory environment.
On the subject of regulatory environment, the WEF index also reported that Barbados-based businesses also benefited from a relatively low burden of Government regulation as we ranked 6th out of 142 on that score. This is not to say that Barbados takes its regulatory responsibilities lightly. Successive Governments have sought to progressively strengthen Barbados’ regulatory framework to ensure that businesses registered here can continue to be confident on the world stage that their reputation will be enhanced and not tarnished by operating from here. In this vein, Barbados established the Financial Service Commission in 2011 to bring together all the non-banking regulators into one body to further strengthen the state’s regulatory oversight and efficiency. Furthermore, Barbados has for several years offered the ease of electronic personal income and corporate tax filing, to which was added last year the ability to electronically file Value Added Tax returns. In its continued thrust to improve the experience of the international work force that the international business sector brings, Invest Barbados also provides a convenient satellite office for the Immigration Department to process work permit applications and renewals and endorse passports and student visas. Far from this intervention adding another layer of bureaucracy, those of us in the sector now praise Government’s investment promotion arm for taking the initiative to improve the speed and efficiency with which such critical documents are processed. BIBA continues to enjoy a collaborative relationship with Invest Barbados and champions the role that this important agency plays in facilitating foreign direct investment flows into Barbados.
While Government has not yet solved all of its business facilitation woes (as evidenced by the WEF index reporting that inefficient Government bureaucracy was cited by respondents as the third most serious problematic factor for doing business in Barbados), BIBA recognizes that it continues to make strides in that direction. Coupled with this, we believe that promised new legislation relevant to the international business sector – including the enactment of Foundation and Private Trust Company legislation – is another positive step toward enhancing our product offering. Government has also indicated that it will amend the Companies Act and Securities Act, among others, to allow for more flexible product offerings.
However, Government is not the only player in the market when it comes to improving our business facilitation environment. The corporate community of Barbados has taken a cross-sectoral approach to improving Barbados’ role as an incubator for entrepreneurial talent. This push by both domestic and international business partners aims to have Barbados transformed into the entrepreneurial hub of the world by 2020 and BIBA is a proud founding sponsor of this vision articulated by the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation. One of the many transformative initiatives of this movement is the establishment of an island-wide open wireless internet network, which will propel Barbados into becoming a truly 24-hour work environment.
While we recognize that there are several challenges where business facilitation is concerned in Barbados, we acknowledge that Government recognizes the needs and has identified a number of solutions to deliver positive results going forward. BIBA supports Government’s attempts to make continuous improvements and we look forward to continuing to contribute to their ongoing efforts in this regard.