The Barbados Government is on a mission to boost the island’s export strength, such that the number of businesses exporting goods and services increases, and the revenue generated from those businesses reaches US$1 billion by 2030.
Over the next eight years the focus will be on making that goal a reality, and leading the charge is the state-owned entity, Export Barbados (BIDC). Export Barbados (BIDC) is committed to growing exports from Barbados, building on the solid foundation it has fostered since its inception. Export Barbados (BIDC) is ever mindful that export-oriented industries are pivotal to the country’s economic development. It is certainly not lost on Export Barbados’ Board and Management that the island’s small population and even the diaspora cannot and must not be the only market that Barbadian businesses endeavor to serve.
Of equal import is that to reach the US$1 billion by 2030 will require increased activity in traditional areas as well as expansion into new and innovative markets which have a global reach. Export Barbados (BIDC) strongly believes that there is a viable future in export. The sector has been resilient throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and while tourism dropped by as much as 80 percent at the height of the pandemic, exports proved to be sustainable, falling only by eight percent.
But, particularly of interest to the organization is the life sciences and biotech industry, as it believes the island is well poised to become the life sciences and biotechnology island of the Caribbean. To achieve that, efforts are underway to develop the framework to allow life sciences to succeed in Barbados. Chief among these are plans to create a 23-acre life sciences park at Newton, Christ Church, which it hopes to populate with leading scientists and manufacturers from across the globe. It is further anticipated that the life sciences park will attract such manufacturers as pharmaceutical manufacturers and companies undertaking medical technology manufacturing and drug development.
The over 200,000 square feet of clean scientific space will also give the hundreds of scientists graduating from The University of the West Indies annually a place where they can hone their skills, working alongside some of the best minds in the world. In fact, I am confident that Barbados can become a life science cluster similar to Costa Rica and Singapore and will also be able to leverage its strengths to work closely with life sciences powerhouses globally, in particular Switzerland. I envisage Barbados and Switzerland developing a collaborative relationship where Barbados can provide a skilled and affordable labour force to the Swiss, while benefitting from their expertise in the field.
But what are life sciences? The term refers to any science related to living organisms and life processes. It involves the study of living organisms, including human beings and plants. The life sciences industry has an expansive reach, comprising companies engaged in the research, development and production of pharmaceuticals and biotech (including vaccines), medical devices, diagnostics, biotechnology based food, natural health products, medicinal cannabis, cosmeceuticals, animal health, among other products aimed at improving the lives of organisms.
To successfully operate in this life sciences industry, Barbadian companies must be willing and ready to keep pace with the ever-changing and oftentimes challenging environment brought on by the global need for innovative, cost-effective products, which provide greater value for money. With those demands on the industry comes new possibilities and opportunities, which will be technology-driven to achieve the anticipated growth in the sector globally.
The sector is already making its mark, as it has played a key role during the pandemic. The global life sciences industry has been growing over the past decade, and in 2020, global deals transacted in the life sciences industry represented USD 285 billion, and it continues to grow. Export Barbados (BIDC) believes that Barbados can carve out a niche in this industry to become a life sciences leader.
At present, biotechnology accounts for approximately 75 percent of Barbados’ certified exports. Notably, Barbados’ top ten domestic exports between 2018 and 2022 included life sciences industry products such as medicaments (USD 43.9 million), rum (USD 155.4 million) and artificial body parts (USD 33.7 million). The latter two are among the top three products from Barbados with the most significant untapped export potential. The export potential for artificial body parts is USD 36.7 million, and rum is USD 18.6 million. The other product is cement at USD 10.4 million.
According to data compiled by Export Barbados (BIDC), the markets with the greatest export potential for Barbados’ exports of artificial body parts are the United States, China and the Netherlands, the top three countries for global demand. There is untapped potential for such exports in the United States and the Netherlands at USD 18.8 million and USD 4.9 million, respectively. Should Barbados meet the export potential to the United States of USD 22.1 million, an increase over the current USD 3.3 million in exports, it could improve Barbados’ economic standing within the next four years.
In terms of rum, the markets with the greatest potential for Barbados’ exports are the United States, France and Canada. According to the figures, current exports represent 13.4 percent, 10.7 percent and 6.1 percent of the United States, France and Canada’s imports, respectively. There are also opportunities in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Caribbean, including Guyana, the Dominican Republic and The Bahamas. Moving Barbados’ exports from the current USD 48.1 million to USD 51.7 million, the fullest export potential, could strengthen Barbados’ already strong position in the USD 1.6 billion industry.
Those are only two examples of export potential in an industry with limitless possibilities. The life sciences sector is booming globally. There are opportunities to invest in the Barbados sector, which can boost the economy and help provide much-needed jobs.
As Barbados builds out the enabling environment allowing the life sciences industry to prosper, the country is expected to attract investment that will see internationally accredited labs operating on the island’s shores and the emergence of new sectors in the industry. It is anticipated that the investment will be foreign and local in nature, as it is hoped that Barbadians will take advantage of the opportunities in the sector and start companies that can help take the industry to new heights.