BASSETERRE, St Kitts – Several issues affecting manufacturing and the business sectors of St Kitts and Nevis were discussed Tuesday by the Federation’s new minister of international trade, industry, commerce and consumer affairs, economic development and investment, Dr Denzil L. Douglas and top officials of St Kitts and Nevis chamber of industry and commerce.
Issues included the closure of Kajola-Kristada, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sectors, new labour laws which offer more protection of employees and a revision of the 2013 National Manufacturing Strategy.
In opening remarks, permanent secretary in the ministry of international trade, industry, commerce and consumer affairs, Jasemin Weekes said the meeting was convened to allow initial discourse and to make formal introduction of Dr Douglas as the new minister.
“Engaging in meaningful dialogue with the Chamber is a necessary and vital aspect of our operations here at the ministry of international trade. We believe that such engagements place the Chamber as an organization in a strategic position, to better represent and promote the interests of the local business community,” said Weekes in opening remarks.
Dr Douglas in his presentation gave a background to initiatives taken in the past, a new commitment to drive direct foreign investment, the security of employees in the workforce and collaboration between government ministries and public and private entities.
Dr Douglas, who is also minister of foreign affairs said St Kitts and Nevis is at a stage where the call to collaborate and strengthen partnerships cannot be ignored and that “co-operation between government and the private sector puts us in an advantageous position, particularly in the global markets. We must therefore be forward-looking in our approach and this must be governed by inclusiveness.”
He expressed the view that dialogue should not be limited only to building a skilful workforce, investment opportunities and adoption of technology, data and innovation.
Dr Douglas said with the closure of factories, the new government is committed to find solutions.
“Let me reiterate that the government remains steadfast in its commitment to working with the private sector. We for example would wish to see the manufacturing sector become more agile and responsive in this rapidly changing and disruptive global environment. We believe that while there are challenges on the international stage, the market is replete with opportunities to strive for excellence and to attain new heights. We must also look inwardly to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient,” said Dr Douglas.
The new minister of international trade challenged the chamber representatives “to leverage the opportunities presented by these emerging markets in the world. At the same time we must also look inwardly to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. The time to act is now.”
Michael Davis, president of St Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce in remarks welcomed the first in a series of dialogue noting the several challenges including the impending closure of Kajola-Kristada – one of the larger manufacturing companies in St Kitts and Nevis “which will have a significant impact on a large number of families.”
He expressed the need for “policies to drive investment in manufacturing that will mitigate that risk that we have seen with respect to companies making the transition to different locations for the bottom line of profitability and discounting other areas like job loss.”
Kevin Taylor, chairman for the manufacturing division of the chamber spoke of the 2013 strategy implemented by former minister of trade Richard Skerritt and the need to complete the review which is in progress.
Dr Douglas was informed that some 150 employees of Kajola-Kristada will be severed when the company finally closes in November. Several persons were severed in April and July and the final batch of 52 within the next few months. Both sides commit to ongoing discussions.