TRADE IN FOCUS: A post-COVID world
What are the strategies designed to bring Barbados out of the current malaise exacerbated by COVID-19?
The recent challenges that have been enhanced by COVID-19, have exposed the vulnerabilities which Barbados has dealt with for generations, but have either been ignored or sought to run away from.
An over-reliance on tourism and international business has been exposed as a major drag on our overall economic performance for the first quarter of 2020.
The now sobering reality is that the tourism sector is effectively shuttered. Hotel plants are closed and workers have been laid off; this has a spiraling impact on the sub-sectors which depend on tourism for survival. Taxi drivers and the agricultural sector will pay the price for the impact of no viable tourist traffic. High-end restaurants will have no customers to serve. With Crop Over cancelled, all of the bookings for this critical sector have evaporated.
Taxes on this sector, which were raised in an effort to drive up revenues, will now result in a deficit. Where will this budgeted shortfall be made up from as this country is in an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, which was meant to provide support to allow it to correct fiscal imbalances?
A story which was carried in the Sunday, May 10th edition of The Barbados Advocate, the issue of an Industrial Policy was advanced by former General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Dennis Clarke, in response to the challenges which Barbados has started to face.
Clarke spoke of the fear and anxiety which Barbadians who have been laid off must be facing, with mounting bills and daily responsibilities. The issue of security of tenure was also advanced in relation to the possible pain and suffering which many expect to face as the duration of the virus’ impact is unknown. No one knows how long the virus will continue to make its presence felt, therefore many businesses will have to continue making serious decisions related to the continuity of their operations.
Many businesses have been operating on a skeleton staff arrangement to date, but as restrictions are lifted then we should expect a movement to scale back up operations. Those who had been laid off for a period of 12 weeks or so, will gradually find their way back into salaried work, but what will operations within businesses look like?
What will the job market look like for those who graduate colleges and find themselves facing down one of the worst employment climates in recent history? What provisions will businesses make in the effort to take risks to make financial rewards in a post COVID-19 world?
Clearly, Government will be looked at as a bridge initially. That bridge will be to enable businesses to maintain staffing levels and oper-ations until conditions ease. After that, we should expect the private sector to lead any push to transform the economy, into one which is not so vulnerable to external shocks.