Donville Inniss was appointed minister of industry, international business, commerce and small business development in March 2013, since which time he has spearheaded the development of Barbados’ export sector as well as overseen the continued success of the domicile’s international business industry. He spoke to The Report Company about his current priorities.
The Report Company: How would you define present-day Barbados?
Donville Innis: Barbados to me, apart from the sun, sand, and what all the tourists love and talk about, is a small island that punches above its weight in the international business and financial services arena. What is not immediately apparent about Barbados is that this is a domicile that has carved a niche for itself in the international business world.
Today, Barbados’ international business and financial sector is second only to tourism in terms of importance and contribution to the national economy. Barbados is a domicile in which international transactions take place on a daily basis. This is not something people immediately see, but to me, as minister, this is critical because in many respects we are part of the engine that is keeping the global economy ticking.
“When you procure something from Barbados, you must get something that is of the highest possible quality”Tweet This
TRC: What are the goals of the Going Global programme?
DI: As minister responsible for industry and commerce, I have responsibility for the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC). In reviewing the statistics surrounding the export of goods and services from Barbados, I felt that we could do better.
We have to reduce our fiscal deficit, we have to increase our foreign exchange earning capacity, and we have to build up a sustainable manufacturing and strengthen the industrial sector. Therefore, the task has been given to the BIDC to lead the charge and increase those exports. Without goals, people settle for mediocrity, so our very conservative aim is to increase the nominal value of exports from Barbados by 10 percent over the next 15 months. We will also improve the export readiness of Barbadian goods, services, and companies.
I have always said that we must focus a lot on standards, which must meet international norms. When you are procuring a product or service from Barbados, the brand must be synonymous with reliability, consistency, quality and uniqueness. When you procure something from Barbados, you must get something that is of the highest possible quality, which meets those international standards. It must be reliable; when you get a service provided by a Barbadian company, that service must come with a high level of reliability. The Barbados brand is therefore what we focus on.
“Since the 17th century, Barbados has played an important role in international trade”Tweet This
TRC: How feasible is the target of a 10 percent increase in exports?
DI: When I look at the grand scheme of things and I look at the buoyancy in the Caribbean economies that have been under pressure for an extended period of time and which make up an important market for us, as well as the global economic landscape, I am satisfied that a 10 percent increase is a reasonable amount that we can achieve.
TRC: How can Barbados capitalise on its ties with the UK?
DI: Since the 17th century, Barbados has played an important role in international trade. The evidence proves that we helped to prop up the British economy in the 17th and 18th centuries with sugar. Over time, as we have moved away from an agrarian society and more into a service-based one, we have found ourselves producing more and more products for international business and the financial services sector, to the extent now where it has become the second most important part of the economy. We currently have over 4,000 companies licensed in this particular industry, with 5,000 or so employees, making a five percent contribution to our national economy. We have redefined ourselves much more towards financial services. The UK has played an important role in that respect in the sense that quite a number of our investors in the financial services sector originate out of the UK.
The UK market is certainly the most vibrant and diversified for international financial transactions, and some of their entities have offices in Barbados that take advantage of our trade agreements and our tax information exchange agreements to do business globally.
Foreign direct investment has also come in from the UK in terms of the sheer number of British people who have invested here in real estate and in other commercial enterprises. I think that the close linkage between Barbados and the UK historically, politically and culturally has manifested itself in many British people seeing Barbados as a location of choice for second homes and for holidays. That has evolved over time, and we can now point to a significant number of high-end real estate projects that are owned by British people, a number of hotels that have been in the hands of the British since time immemorial, and several of our service-based manufacturing entities. That is because of that long-standing and familiar relationship with the UK.
Interestingly, a number of our foreign investment and international business transactions also come from Canada, so while Canada may not be a main source market for tourism, certainly on the international service side of the economy, it is a more important market. Over the last five years or so, Barbados has consistently been the third-largest recipient of foreign investment from Canada. This is because of the tax treaty that we have with Canada which allows for the repatriation of dividends. In fact, we have a network of 36 other tax treaties with countries around the world. Recently, we signed another with Slovakia and with Rwanda, and we will probably sign one with Cyprus soon. It is those kinds of treaties that give investors the level of comfort and sense of security in their growing global operations.
This is an island that is certainly in many respects a significant partner in international trade. We see companies locate offices in Barbados because they can find a high quality of staff here to manage their global operations, allowing them to grow their business.
“I believe that this island can punch above its weight in the world”Tweet This
TRC: What would you like to accomplish during your tenure as minister?
DI: I would like to leave a legacy where I am part of that generation of Barbadians that came along in the post-independence era and built upon the solid foundation laid by our ancestors who insisted and invested heavily in education and health care services to ensure that we produce high-quality people. I want to help take my island from being a small little island in the Caribbean known for sea and sun to one that is a significant player and partner in the international global arena, particularly in the areas of global finance, international business and trade and tax matters. I also want to see Barbados become a significant voice for small, open economies in international fora. I believe that this island can punch above its weight in the world. I believe that this little island can really be a shining example of how a small, open economy with strong democratic principles can be a significant partner in the global arena.
TRC: What would be your message to potential investors around the world?
DI: Barbados has always maintained an open door policy in terms of welcoming visitors, not just for relaxation, but also to engage in serious business. This island offers a wonderful mix of business and serious fun as well.