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Opening of PriceSmart

That joint venture has resulted in the establishment of the Barbados branch of PriceSmart and it is the fervent hope of all of us that associations and links such as this one will lead to positive and mutual benefits for all parties. Certainly, the cherished goal and common aspiration of all who are in attendance at this function, must be the resounding success of this venture.
I certainly wish to commend all persons from both sides who, after having taken this bold initiative to do business together, have persevered in ensuring the birth of this project.
My Ministry is charged, inter alia, with the development of policies to foster the growth of the business sector in Barbados, and has been working assiduously to provide a more favourable environment for business development.
As some of you may no doubt be aware, Barbados as a member of the World Trade Organization, was obliged among other things, to dismantle all protective barriers for trade from which local manufacturers and producers benefited for many years. Under this new regime, local business, small or large, must therefore adopt new strategies to meet the challenges which now confront them.
A new era of trade liberalization, and, by extension, increased competition, is now upon us. In fact, as a consequence of trade liberalization and globalization, powerful multinational corporations are seeking more and more to enter markets around the globe, thus forcing local businesses to compete fiercely in the marketplace.
It is therefore imperative that businesses adopt innovative strategies and become more flexible and nimble as a means not only of better ensuring their survival, but more so to achieve a competitive edge. Indeed, I hasten to warn that those businesses which do not undergo a change in mindset and cultivate a new ‘enterprise culture’ in the present climate, are more than likely to run into hard times and ultimately to face collapse.
Where there is competition there is a tendency for consumers to enjoy the benefit of greater choice. And clearly, with greater choice, consumers tend to enjoy greater welfare. This is something which more businesses would do well to appreciate. Of course, I need not tell you that the organizing of this joint venture has clearly shown an appreciation of this relationship.
Businesses must seek to identify investment opportunities and aggressively pursue them. In this connection, they should engage in effective planning, training of staff, re-tooling of their operations and so on. The success of any business, it seems to me, can be greatly enhanced through the adoption or exploitation of these tools.
Any progressive business has to be concerned with its welfare and with its survival. Being able to survive in a competitive environment requires that the business must be able to differentiate its products and services, and to maintain or even increase its market share. In this connection, I wish to suggest that businesses must be prepared to:

  • Have a clear vision;
  • Take calculated risks;
  • Be committed;
  • Be focused;
  • Search for solutions to their problems; and
  • Implement the solutions identified.

I wish to take this opportunity to stress that the Government of Barbados is committed to ensuring that there is a level playing field for the conduct of business and commerce in the country for the benefit of all Barbadians. One of the initiatives taken by Government to facilitate the realization of this objective was the setting up of the Fair Trading Commission for the specific purpose of looking after matters relating to:

  • the regulation of public utility services, such as the supply of telecommunication services and the supply and distribution of electricity;
  • the protection of consumers; and
  • fair competition in the marketplace.

With the advent of globalization, many countries have had to cope with a significant increase in foreign investment, particularly in the area of wholesale and retail trade. More specifically they have had to deal with an influx of multinational corporations. It is therefore important for countries to have arrangements in place to ensure that domestic businesses are not taken advantage of by these large multinational corporations. Of course, it is equally important that small domestic businesses are not taken advantage of by larger domestic businesses.
Hence, the Government is taking steps to ensure that the interest of players of all sizes is properly protected. In this connection, I can mention that a Fair Competition Act which will be administered by the Fair Trading Commission will be introduced and that the preparation of this legislation is progressing at a satisfactory pace.
I am also satisfied that our Fair Competition Act will help to create a healthy business environment for the benefit of investors as well as consumers.
I can tell you that the legislation when enacted will seek to:

  • Prevent anti-competitive practices in the marketplace;
  • Prevent abuse of monopoly power;
  • Promote consumer welfare; and
  • Better ensure the participation of all enterprises in the marketplace.

I must stress that I expect that the legislation will apply to all enterprises, which engage in business activity in Barbados, whether public, or private enterprises.
Each business needs to develop an identity which will differentiate it from others. Further, a business should seek to ensure that its customer base remains solid, even in the face of competition. In order to realize this, steps must be taken to ensure that the business can provide personalized and quality service so as to better guarantee customer satisfaction. In short there are certain guidelines which businesses may wish to bear in mind. A Business should seek to:

  • Differentiate its product or service - This can be done in non-traditional ways and with a focus on being seen and remembered.
  • React to the customers’ needs. Remember that it is easier for a business to change to accommodate its customers’ demands than for a customer to change to the business’ way of doing things. In other words, the business is better positioned to serve the customer based on his preferences, than by pursuing set policy, as is often the case in large corporations.
  • And be flexible and react quickly to market changes.

By following these guidelines, businesses should be able not only to retain their regular customers, but also to attract new customers, even in the face of competition.
I believe that some segments of our population may be wondering why Government should allow foreign companies to invest in our country. Indeed, some persons may well be arguing that available investment opportunities should be reserved for Barbadians.
I wish to suggest however that progressive Governments everywhere are putting measures in place to facilitate foreign investment as a means of spurring economic development. I must say too that for many years Barbados, under successive administrations, has been facilitating and encouraging foreign investment. Indeed one may well wonder whether or not the development which has taken place in our country over the years could have materialized in the manner in which it has, without the benefit of foreign investment.
I note with great interest that PriceSmart has chosen to invest in Barbados, not on its own as it could have done, but in partnership with a local establishment. This approach I believe suggests that its interest in our country goes beyond simply making a profit on its investment. To my mind it suggests that there is some long-term interest and a commitment to our economic and social development.
In fact, Mr. Milford, your Executive Director, has been working extremely hard here in Barbados at integrating PriceSmart into our society and, in particular, into the communities that surround this establishment in which we are now physically located. This is to be lauded, and businesses, particularly foreign entities, which behave in this way, stand an excellent chance of so ingratiating themselves into the hearts and psyches of the local population, and especially of their immediate neighbours, that success should be guaranteed.
And please, be under no illusion! PriceSmart’s offer to assist with the community development of this area, which you may be aware I have the honour to represent, has not been forgotten and will be taken up very, very shortly.
I also note, with great interest, the enthusiasm which the average Barbadian has displayed in respect of the advent of a PriceSmart operation in this country and the large number of persons subscribing for membership in PriceSmart over the past several weeks. That the entity was able to attract such interest and presumably to raise what must be a substantial quantum of funds from potential shoppers even before its doors have been opened speaks volumes for the confidence which Barbadians clearly have in this venture.
Whatever the expectations of consumers, I believe that it will be incumbent on PriceSmart’s management to ensure that they are not disappointed. And if the reputation of those involved in this venture is anything to go on, then I do expect that consumers will not be disappointed.
Earlier, I alluded to the setting up of the Fair Trading Commission and the fact that steps were being taken to ensure that there would be a level playing field and an environment for the fair conduct of business. I must add however that since 1994, Government has been taking steps to encourage and facilitate business activity in all sections of the economy, especially small business activity. I doubt very much that anyone would world deny that fact.
One can think of the many incentives which have been provided through measures such as the Small Business Development Act, the Special Development Areas Act, the provision of credit funding through the Rural Development Commission, the Urban Development Commission and Fund Access as well as the provision of equity funding through the Enterprise Growth Fund Ltd and the Small Business Venture Capital Inc. Time of course does not permit me to go beyond these few examples.
Also, the economy of our country has been performing quite creditably over the past eight years. Available statistics show that real Gross Domestic Product exhibited positive growth every year since 1993 and in fact, in the year 2000, grew by some 3.6 percent. This is reflected in our per capita income and I am reliably informed that per capita Gross Domestic Product now stands at $16,100.00. Additionally, for the year 2000 the rate of unemployment was at an all time low of 9.3% while the rate of inflation, at around 2.5%, was relatively stable.
I mentioned these statistics to make the point that Barbados is taking on the characteristics of a developed society where individuals are benefiting from increasing purchasing power.
As should be expected therefore, consumers are looking for greater choices in the supply of goods and services. Hence, there is scope for businesses to respond to this development and to seek to satisfy what is essentially a growing need.
It seems to me that the organizers of this co-operative venture, the Barbados Shipping and Trading Company Limited and PriceSmart have recognized that Barbadians are enjoying greater prosperity and are desirous of benefiting from greater choice in the marketplace. Clearly, this venture, to the extent that it will be able to offer Barbadians considerable choice for a range of products, will help to satisfy a critical need.
In my capacity as Minister of Commerce, Consumer Affairs and Business Development, I feel strongly that I have a responsibility not only to the business community but also to the consuming public. And I therefore hope and expect that this new venture will contribute positively to the further growth and development of our country.
In concluding I wish to take the opportunity to wish the company every success in its operations.
I thank you.