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Chamber vice-chair: Build off existing assets for economic diversity

Urges public/private sector dialogue for productivity progress
  • Robert Myers.

Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 28, 2013

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The Vice Chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) Robert Myers said he is glad to hear Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis say that the government considers productivity a “priority”.

However, he suggested that certain actions of the government have not helped in this regard, and urged greater public/private sector dialog on “long term goals” to foster much-needed productivity increases and increased diversity of economic activity that will enable The Bahamas to remain competitive and economically stable.

Myers said that without increased levels of productivity and competitiveness Bahamian businesses will be forced out of business and this nation will not attract foreign direct investment (FDI) or local investments.

He was commenting after Halkitis responded to recent findings released at the IMF Caribbean Growth Forum, hosted at Atlantis resort on Paradise Island last month, that ranked The Bahamas last in the region for productivity of labor – indicating that there has been a one percent decline in productivity between 2001 and 2011.

“Productivity and competitiveness are explicitly linked and we are happy to see Minister Halkitis giving this ‘priority’.

“We would point out that we have on several occasions met and written to the Ministry of Finance on specifically these issues.

“Prior to the recent tax increases in Freeport, we wrote a very informative paper to the government that outlined specific ways and means that the Bahamas government could improve the efficiency, productivity and competitiveness of Freeport-based international manufacturing, distribution and logistics companies.

“Some months following these submittals, the government chose to implement taxes that increased costs to such businesses in Freeport and to date nothing has been done to reverse these burdens placed on Freeport-based companies trying to compete globally. We hope that this may now be revisited,” said Myers.

The V-Trade Supply president said that productivity and competitiveness are “not discussions the private sector can ignore”.

“They are actions we must take or we are quickly forced out of business by those with greater levels of the same. We have made it abundantly clear to the government that far more regionally competitive countries like Panama, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Miami, Cuba, Jamaica and others are leaving us behind.

“These countries’ labor rates, power rates, incentives, natural resources, shipping rates, logistics connectivity, quantity and quality of work force and ease of doing business are ahead of our own, in many cases by multiples of two or three times. We will not attract FDI or local investment in manufacturing, distribution or logistics with these kinds of inequalities.

“The government has done well over the years promoting our two major FDI industries, namely tourism and banking, but our country desperately requires far more diversity that will promote greater stability and GDP.

“We must look to build off of our existing assets and encourage and promote growth in areas like Freeport that already have the infrastructure, incentives, a transshipment port and land to grow. Freeport does not need a multibillion-dollar investor to bring in all kinds of people to build or run it, it is already there.”

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