Reacting to entrepreneurs’ complaints that the influx of Chinese businesses was posing a threat to their survival, St Lucia’s foreign minister Alva Baptiste said on Monday that his government would help local entrepreneurs become more competitive rather than give them protection.
“Rather than seek to be protective this new Labour administration will seek to make businesses more competitive, as we need to pursue a policy that will ensure that we do not disturb the delicate balance that currently exists,” the minister said.
Baptiste was responding to complaints from the St Lucia Manufacturers and Small Busi-ness Association that the Chinese were taking over the subregional market and gaining an unfair advantage.
Last month, St Lucian business leaders called on Eastern Caribbean heads, at their summit in Castries, to address what they considered to be a growing concern for small entrepreneurs.
Of the six independent member nations of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, St Lucia, St Kitts & Nevis and St Vincent & the Grenadines have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, while the other three, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and Dominica are linked to China.
The minister also dismissed a recommendation from the small businesses that Castries should factor in competition from Chinese businesses as it reaches a decision on whether to re-establish ties with Beijing.
“We must never reduce a debate to what irritates a particular sector but examine the overall economic health of the country and ultimately every sector of the society will benefit from the global policy issues that will guide the conduct of our new government,” he said.
Baptiste contends that St Lucia and the OECS should always forge relations with other countries on the basis of fuelling a development agenda, adding that Castries will base its decision to establish diplomatic relations with China or Taiwan on what benefits the country as a whole.
The head of the St Lucia manufacturers’ group, Paula Calderon, has argued that Chinese businesses threatened the economic stability of the entire OECS.
“The inability of the manufacturing sector to contribute meaningfully to the islands’ gross domestic product is being severely hampered”, according to Calderon, who claims that in recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of Chinese nationals setting up shop in St Lucia and the OECS.
“This is a trend that is detrimental to small businesses given the fact that the Chinese have vast resources available to them at home, including the assistance of their govern-ment and it’s on that basis that we consider the practice unfair trading,” she said.
Calderon added: “We know, for instance, that in Dominica passports can be purchased by the Chinese to allow them to come in and invest but once that has been done, they automatically have access to the other OECS markets.”
But the St Lucian foreign minister said that his administration will continue the policy it began during its previous term of creating initiatives in support of small business, including the creation of the Office of Private Sector Relations