Canadian Chamber of Commerce visits Cost-U-Less in Barbados
If the first challenge for Canadians doing business in Brazil is that our two countries don’t know each other very well, that’s not a hurdle you face in Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago. The Canadian brand, developed over centuries of trade, education, tourism and other contacts, is both strong and pervasive.
Canada’s presence is evident in Barbados from the moment you land at Grantley Adams International Airport, which we helped build. In the short drive to the hotel, you pass Gildan Activewear’s facilities, various Canadian bank branches, and Bert’s Bar, still bravely sporting an Ottawa Senators banner on its exterior. When the Sens were still in the playoffs, less thirsty fans could watch them in their hotel rooms on CBC, which is carried on cable.
The Governor General’s first stop was McGill University’s Bellairs Research Institute, Canada’s only teaching and research facility in the tropics. It was something of a homecoming for him because he had previously visited when he was Principal of McGill. The Canadian students at the Institute conduct important research in a setting that must make their shivering counterparts back home jealous.
While Trinidad and Tobago is only a short plane ride from Barbados, the countries differ greatly. Tourism and offshore financial services are still a mainstay of the Barbadian economy while T&T boasts the Caribbean’s largest and most diverse economy. Despite both having been British colonies, their ethnic mixes are very different, and the quaint buildings and beautiful beaches in Barbados contrast with the grittier, industrialised character of its much larger neighbour.
Despite these differences, each boasts deep ties with Canada, particularly in education. Canadian Presbyterian missionaries built many of the first schools and you meet local residents who received their post-secondary education in Canada. Trinidad and Tobago’s foreign minister, for example, is a graduate of the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. It is another example of how educating international students creates important bridges between countries.
Businesses also build bridges. The banks provide the most visible Canadian presence, but Canadian business is also strong in energy, environmental systems, construction, retail, hotels and a host of other sectors.
In Barbados, I visited the construction site where Canada’s fabled North West Company is building its sixth Caribbean store under the Costs-U-Less banner. Once it’s finished, it will provide jobs and new affordable options for local residents. And when the President of Trinidad and Tobago held his state dinner for the Governor General, the steel band that entertained us bore the logo of PCS Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Saskatchewan’s PotashCorp. PCS employs about 450 people on 165 acres, in one of the world’s largest nitrogen terminals.
The Caribbean market is small, but Canadian businesses occupy key niches and most of them see plenty of room room for further growth.
Our businesses have a major advantage because the Canadian brand is well-known and well-respected. We are seen as ethical and committed partners, which may be why Minister of State for the Americas Diane Ablonczy chose Port of Spain to launch an initiative promoting corporate social responsibility.
As Robert Hanf, Executive Chairman of Barbados Light & Power Company, a subsidiary of Nova Scotia’s Emera, told me, “You come to the table with trust intact.”
That’s a very solid foundation to build your business on.