In this month of Independence BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY this week takes a brief look at aspects of the Barbados economy – its past, present and future.
Once upon a time sugar was king. These days tourism and international business and financial services are the sectors calling the shots economically for Barbados. Not to be forgotten are agriculture and manufacturing which still play an important role.
While none of these industries are likely to vanish anytime soon, expectations are that in the future the island will have a diversified economy focused increasingly on renewable energy, the creative industries, and other areas of activity with significant potential to boost the island’s earnings.
Talk about the green economy is now heard more frequently in the national discourse.
Historically Barbados was heavily dependent on agriculture, with the production of sugar pumping many millions of dollars into the Barbados economy over time, so much so that it was seen as an economic jewel in the British colonial crown.
With Independence in 1966 efforts shifted from an economy based largely on sugar to one focused on the creation of new employment opportunities and the provision of social services. Economic diversification was also a major objective.
While the country has continued to produce sugar for export, its financial contribution to the Treasury has waned, although there is now some effort to revive it, focusing not on a sugar industry but a sugar cane industry with a range of byproducts.
As sugar has taken a relative back seat, the island’s economy has been largely driven by services, much of it related to tourism and international business and financial services.
Agricultural production and the manufacturing of goods, some of it for export, has continued, but this has been significantly challenged by increased trade liberalization and other issues, including the cost of production and reduced availability of labour.
Barbados progressed to such an extent that its economic output grew from $441.9 million in 1965 to $961.8 million in 1998, meaning it was virtually a billion-dollar economy. Some estimates conclude that today the economy could be worth between $8 billion and $10 billion, although work has been ongoing to determine a conclusive gross domestic product figure.
But what about the future? The words green economy are being used more frequently, and officials including Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler have been advocating economic diversification focused largely on an environmentally friendly model with renewable energy at the centre.
“The green economy debate recognizes our structural vulnerabilities, offers a model to assist us in further realizing our sustainable development aspirations and creates the institutional platform that would enable us to participate in innovative partnerships in the fight to save our planet, against mounting unsustainable consumption and production patterns,” Stuart has said.
The plans include generating 30 per cent of the island’s electricity supply from renewable energy, and by 2025 Government hopes to increase Barbados’ renewable energy supply by doubling the use of solar water heaters, among a range of other projects.
So that while sugar and other agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, and international business and financial services will remain, there will be another economic king in charge 20 years from now.