By Elesha George
Greater emphasis on the manufacturing and agriculture industries is how Antigua and Barbuda will stand a chance to compete amid the Covid pandemic, according to the head of the Chamber of Commerce.
“If we only rely on providing services, then we have a problem because those can be stopped. We need to be more focused on utilising the things that we have here to produce.
“We need to invest in our value chain … We need to invest heavily in agriculture,” said Martin Cave, Executive Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ltd.
Through advocacy and trade facilitation, the Chamber represents more than 200 of the large companies in operation in the country.
These businesses have had to retrofit their work spaces to facilitate Covid health and safety protocols, and deal with hardships including reduced revenue while trying to maintain their payroll amid global trade restrictions.
“By and large our challenges were on many fronts. It was with trade, it was our members meeting their obligations to their lenders – the banks, to their employees – how do you continue to employ persons when you’re not making money?” he questioned.
Cave quoted statistics from the Social Security Scheme which showed that about 1,000 businesses closed down in 2020.
While the agency is working to accumulate empirical data on the situation, the effects of the pandemic on businesses continue to be voiced by business owners and are evidenced by significant unemployment numbers.
The solution, Cave believes, is the introduction of a vertical integration process that adds value to raw materials produced here which will in turn provide a level of food security, while at the same time growing the economy.
However, one major setback is the high cost of energy and insufficient potable water.
“We have relatively high costs [energy] compared to countries that engage actively in manufacturing … some countries within the Caribbean like Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados etc … One of the key factors to help us with manufacturing must be lower energy costs and we need to also have potable water at an affordable rate.
“Electricity and water go a very long way in terms of making the means of production affordable,” he told Observer.
A more short-term challenge, but a challenge none-the-less, is the country’s food storage capability which Cave believes can be solved through private-public partnerships.
On a more global scale, a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), which analyses the impact of the pandemic on the global labour market, found that 8.8 percent of global working hours were lost in 2020, resulting in a decline in global level income, equivalent to US$3.7 trillion.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the study involved more than 45 million companies around the world.
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