By Cathy Lashley
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- Manufacturing is not dead; in fact, it remains one of the vital productive sectors in Barbados, and contributes immensely to the national economy, says Minister of Industry and Small Business and Rural Development, Denis Kellman, as he addressed a manufacturers' forum on Wednesday.
He said: "The fact that manufacturing can achieve growth in its export sector, in the midst of a protracted global economic crisis, suggests that it has found ways in which it can add value to its product offering in a manner that has taken advantage of niches within the international market place."
The industry minister, however, suggested that the sector could be further strengthened, if a collective team approach to Barbados' sustainable development was adopted and called on public and private sector organisations to support locally produced products in every sphere of economic activity. He noted that this would be a "sure way to alleviate poverty and lift the social-stratosphere of our nation".
Kellman made a plea for members of academia, particularly at the University of the West Indies, to develop systems that could assist in facilitating product development and the exploitation of Barbados' natural resources as a way to bolster the sector.
"There is a wide and diverse creative think tank that exists within the manufacturing community that remains untapped simply because such enterprises lack the financial resources to procure the wherewithal required to test their product ideas. They also lack the know-how to transform their ideas into commercial endeavours. This is where the University of the West Indies could assist..." he said.
Turning to the overall performance of industry, the minister admitted that there was negative growth in the manufacturing sub-sector in terms of production volumes, with the exception of food, which registered a 1.63 per cent increase for the period January to May this year.
"During the first five months of 2012, gross productivity declined by 7.08 per cent when compared to the corresponding period in 2011. This drop in productivity follows a decline in production quantities in the comparative time periods between 2010 and 2011, by approximately 5.26 per cent. Evidently, this is reflective of a sector whose capacity is underutilised, making it more difficult to be competitive, particularly against a backdrop of cheaper internationally produced products," he added.
However, on a more positive note, Kellman said that the export sector grew by 20.25 per cent when compared to the same period in 2011. This success, he disclosed was as a result of the rum sub-sector, which recorded a growth rate of 53 per cent, "followed by other manufacturing which contributed to export earnings with a growth rate of 15 per cent and the chemicals sub-sector which recorded a growth rate of 14 per cent".
He contended that despite declining productivity levels the sector has shown resilience and has contributed in a significant way to Barbados' foreign exchange earnings; "a resource on which this country relies to keep the value of its dollar intact".
The forum was held under the theme Industrial Policy and National Development- Developmental Agenda.