Trade Policy Review: Barbados
The third Trade Policy Review of Barbados has provided an excellent opportunity to improve our understanding of its trade and investment policies. I would like to thank Senator the Honorable Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade; H.E. Marion Williams, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados to the World Trade Organization, and the Barbados delegation, for their constructive engagement in this meeting and their strong commitment to this exercise. I would also like to thank H.E. Tan Yee Woan, Ambassador of Singapore to the WTO for her insightful remarks as discussant. Barbados' written answers to over 90 advance written questions have been well appreciated by Members and we look forward to answers to additional questions, no later than one month after this meeting.
Members recognized the fact that Barbados has a narrow economic base, is highly reliant on imports and is susceptible to the vagaries of the environment. Members also noted that Barbados is highly dependent on tourism services, which contribute directly and indirectly to GDP in excess of 50%, and are the main generators of foreign exchange. All these factors made Barbados' economy particularly vulnerable to exogenous shocks. Reflecting this vulnerability, Barbados was severely affected by the global economic crisis, which resulted in a sharp decline in tourism receipts and weak GDP growth.
While commending Barbados on its resilience and prudent macroeconomic policies in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, including the implementation of a fiscal consolidation programme, Members expressed concern regarding the precarious fiscal position and consequent rise in the debt ratio to 126% of GDP. Members acknowledged that Barbados had put in place a medium-term Growth and Development Strategy centred on Adjustment, Reform, Recovery and Stability in an effort to address and resolve some of the above issues.
Members praised Barbados' strong support for the multilateral trading system and the role it has played in the DDA negotiations. Its leadership and advocacy role for small island developing states and small vulnerable economies was particularly appreciated. Barbados' efforts towards liberalization at the regional and bilateral level were also noted, including the different agreements reached through its participation in CARICOM and the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), signed in October 2008, and ratified by Barbados in July 2014.
Barbados was commended for its open investment regime, and was invited by Members to lock in investment guarantees by implementing an Investment Code. Some Members also stated that more was needed in terms of ease of doing business to attract foreign investment.
Members also acknowledged Barbados' open economy and liberal trade regime. Barbados' considerable progress with respect to the adoption of trade facilitation measures was highlighted by several Members. In particular, they noted that Customs clearance could be done electronically, mechanisms for advanced ruling were in place, and risk assessment was used. Members enquired as to when Barbados would ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement and notify its commitments. We very much welcome the updates by Minister McClean earlier.
However, Members expressed concern regarding the dual licensing regime for imports. Some Members also expressed concern with respect to the maintenance of tariff peaks, and encouraged Barbados to narrow the gap between applied and bound tariff rates. Concerns were raised pertaining to the prevalence of high tariffs on certain fish and textile and clothing products. Members also noted the large number of tariff and fiscal concessions granted by Barbados to promote exports. Certain Members also sought clarity with regards to the licensing regime in the tourism services sector.
Barbados was commended for its competition policy legislation and enforcement, deemed to be of particular importance for a small market. Some Members noted the absence of AD and CV legislation and we heard from Minister McClean that Barbados is undertaking the necessary positive steps. Members noted that, during the period under review, Barbados had continued to implement a number of incentive programmes targeted solely or partly at the promotion of exports. Some of these programmes had been identified by Barbados as export subsidies and notified to the WTO. Barbados had also notified to the WTO the internal steps to be undertaken to bring these subsidies into conformity with the SCM Agreement by 31 December 2015. Members requested information on the steps taken since the last notification to ensure the timely dismantlement of the measures.
Members welcomed Barbados's initiative to consolidate its SPS regulatory functions under a single government agency and to bring its plant and animal health and food safety systems in line with international standards.
Certain Members also noted that some of the issues identified during the previous TPR had not been fully addressed; they also urged Barbados to review its IPR legislation to make it compatible with WIPO treaties.
The participation of a sizeable number of delegations in this meeting and the large number of questions posed during this Trade Policy Review indicate the clear importance of Barbados as a trading partner. I hope, therefore, that this Review will help Barbados to reinforce its participation in the multilateral trading system. In this respect, I would wish to emphasize that it is important for Barbados to continue to implement the legislative changes required to best harness the opportunities presented by the multilateral trading system and by the integration processes in which it participates. Given the constraints faced by Barbados, the collaboration and technical assistance of other WTO Members in this matter would be most helpful.
In closing, I would like to thank the delegation of Barbados, led by Minister McClean, Ambassador Williams, Ambassador Tan, the discussant, all delegations, and the Secretariat for this very successful third review of the trade policies of Barbados. We also thank the interpreters.
We wish the Barbados delegation a safe trip back home.