Minister Skerritt to Chamber: ‘Stop waste time fighting political battles and make use of opportunities created by government for growth and sustainability’

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, MAY 29TH 2013 (CUOPM) — Newly-appointed Minister of International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Sen. the Hon. Richard “Ricky” Skerritt has given the St. Kitts and Nevis Chamber of industry and Commerce the assurance of his committeemen and of his ministry to the vital sector.

Minister Skerritt, a former President of the Chamber and who devoted much of his time at creating the Manufacturing Division over 25 years ago, is of the view that the Chamber wastes far too much time and resources fighting political battles instead of making use of the opportunities created by government for growth and sustainability.

“I believe I have the right to state my view publicly that the Chamber wastes far too much time and resources fighting questionable social and political battles, while at the same time devoting little effort at partnering with Government on policy and program development for strengthening investor confidence and generating private sector growth and sustainability,” he said in recent remarks at the opening of the St. Kitts and Nevis National Consultation on the Draft Manufacturing Strategy.

Mr. Skerritt noted that although he expects to be chastised for making that statement at the forum, he is of the view the Chamber has recently operated more as a politically-motivated organization than as a genuine business development association.

“I therefore again call on the Chamber’s leadership to focus on taking more positive steps on behalf of all of the productive sectors of our economy,” said Mr. Skerritt, who is also Minister of Tourism and International Transport.

IMF Chief of the Caribbean 1 Division, Mr. George Tsibouris in an exclusive interview with WINNFM, not only projected economic growth of near two percent in 2013, but made it abundantly clear that the government of Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, has worked quite assiduously to make conditions for the local Private Sector to engage in more economic activity.

He commended the Manufacturer’s Division Chairman, Jose Rosa and Chamber President Lake and his team for their efforts at designing and documenting a planned national approach to the future of manufacturing.

“This strategy formulation is the kind of initiative which sadly has not been forthcoming in regular enough doses from the wider private sector in the recent past,” pointed out Mr. Skerritt, who articulated that the Denzil Douglas Labour Administration “will be friendly and supportive of all businesses – small, medium and large – that genuinely want to compete in the marketplace, add value to consumers, are committed to the empowerment of local people, and are respectful of the linkages to the communities where they do business.”

He said all officials in his Ministry have no illusions about his own commitment to receptiveness and openness to constructive inputs from business groups and individuals.

Mr. Skerritt noted that since taking up his new additional Ministerial responsibilities for International Trade, Industry, Commerce, and Consumer Affairs, the Ministry has significantly increased its already busy agenda in the interest of the private sector as a whole.

“Some 25 new submissions seeking Government support have been considered and approved by Cabinet on behalf of St. Kitts businesses in less than three months since my portfolio was expanded. And this includes at least 8 submissions on behalf of manufacturers. In addition, my personal attention to the manufacturing sector during that period has been considerable. It includes some very serious and complicated issues related to job security and employment growth in at least three manufacturing enterprises, each one with its own peculiar need for government support for its own production requirements. It has also been my responsibility to keep the process moving towards ratification and implementation of the Partial Scope Agreement with the Government of Brazil, a hugely important potential stimulant for future growth in the electronics enclave sector,” said Mr. Skerritt.

He said his recent visits to electronics plants have reminded him that over 90 percent of their employees are female and in many cases are single heads of household.

“That is one of the main reasons why our Government has been so strongly committed to protecting employment and improving working conditions in the enclave sector. That is also why we continue to do all we can to facilitate a positive investment climate that can attract further growth in that sector. My recent plant visits also opened my eyes to how much the electronics sector has evolved over the years and that there is a significant role emerging for the employment of more males as well,” Mr. Skerritt said.

The enclave sector already contributes approximately 8% of St. Kitts and Nevis’ Gross Domestic Product, GDP, is the fifth highest contributor to GDP and sustains over 2000 jobs in the Federation either directly or indirectly.

That he stated translates into approximately 9% of the Federation’s total workforce in year-round, full-time, employment in the majority of cases and the amount of exports generated by the manufacturing sector, places the Federation as one of the leading exporters of merchandise in the entire Caribbean and definitely as the leader in the OECS and Barbados sub-region and if all goes well, it won’t be very long before preferential access to the massive Brazilian market will provide further impetus for growth in export production.

Minister Skerritt further noted that manufacturing in St. Kitts and Nevis has grown beyond the enclave sector and includes a fair amount of production for the local and visitor markets in the form of craft, garments, and agro-processing.

” I look forward to hearing more ideas and research results in today’s consultation about how these sectors can be helped further by Government to achieve sustainable growth, including their export potential. However, you should be warned that any argument in favor of additional support for the manufacturing sector must also show how government’s investment will be recouped by actual new manufacturing activity, employment, and exporting. I am also aware that the manufacturing sector has been impacted severely by the high cost of energy and transportation, and the continued global financial and economic challenges. But I know that several of our manufacturers have been resilient, and fortunately many of you have made adjustments in your production and management systems as well as expanded your product range and diversified your markets. We should also be proud of the fact that, as a major long term employer in the Federation, the manufacturing sector has developed a cadre of highly skilled and productive employees, including technicians and engineers,” said Minister Skerritt.

He disclosed that in his recent interactions with manufacturing owners, managers and customers, it was highlighted that it is the sustained adherence to quality that has caused the St. Kitts enclave sector to survive and grow even during the most difficult market conditions recently.

“That is why it is critical that the manufacturing strategy that we are discussing today seeks to promote and propagate ‘quality’ as the cornerstone of the future of manufacturing,” said Minister Skerritt.

He said his Ministry believes that it is production quality more than anything else that will ultimately ensure that the sector continues to be globally competitive and can remain as a major employer of skilled workers locally.

“You can be assured therefore that we will do all we can to adopt and implement any strategy that promotes quality as one of its primary objectives,” Minister Skerritt said.

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