Barbados is a single island located in the Lesser Antilles, in the south-east of the Caribbean. Its closest neighbours are St Lucia and Grenada. There is a small Caribbean community in Australia including 341 individuals born in Barbados (2006 Census).
Australia’s High Commissioner in Port of Spain, Mr Ross Tysoe AO, holds non-resident accreditation to Barbados. Australia also maintains a resident Honorary Consul in Barbados. The Barbadian High Commissioner in Ottawa is accredited as non-resident Ambassador to Australia. Australia previously maintained its High Commission to the Caribbean in Bridgetown, Barbados from 1994 to 2004.
Barbados became a fully independent member of the Commonwealth in 1966. It now functions as a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, a Governor-General as representative of the Monarchy and Prime Minister as head of government.
Barbados joined the United Nations in 1966, and became a member of the Organisation of American States in 1967. Barbados is also a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – the region’s major political grouping.
Barbados is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament. The House of Assembly comprises 30 single-member constituencies, elected for five year terms. The Prime Minister is the head of the party with the most members elected to the House of Assembly. The Senate maintains 21 members who are appointed by the Governor-General, with 12 on advice of the Prime Minister, two on advice by the Leader of the Opposition and seven by the Governor-General acting independently. The two dominant political parties - the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) - have both governed Barbados in the post-independence era. The judiciary is an independent arm of government, mandated by the Constitution to perform oversight over the Executive and to act as a forum for the resolution of legal disputes. It is headed by the Chief Justice and comprises the Supreme Court and Magistrates Court.
In April 2005, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated to replace the British Privy Council as the highest court of appeal in the CARICOM region. The CCJ hears appeals as the court of last resort in both civil and criminal matters from those member states which have ceased to allow appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC). Since 2011, Barbados, along with Belize and Guyana have replaced the jurisdiction of the JCPC with the CCJ.
Whilst the population of Barbados is relatively small at 277,000 (2011), it is one of the most diversified and advanced economies in the region, and maintains one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean. As a result, Barbados continues to play a leading role in CARICOM, including advocating full implementation of the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME). Barbados is also home to the headquarters of other CARICOM agencies including the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, the Caribbean Development Bank and the Caribbean Examinations Council.
Historically, Barbados’ primary economic drivers have been sugar cane production and manufacturing. However, since the 1980s the economy has diversified into tourism, international banking and services and foreign direct investment. These now collectively comprise about 80% of GDP. Barbados is an important regional economy, and has been at the forefront of the creation and implementation of the CSME. Internationally, Barbados is an original member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Whilst Barbados maintains one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean, US$15,554 (2011), it has experienced quite modest economic growth since 2007. This is in part due to the adverse impacts of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and associated contraction of foreign investment and tourism flows. In 2009 at the height of the GFC, Barbados experienced a GDP contraction of approximately 4%. Growth recovery since has been less than 1% (2011), though successively increasing each year.
Approximately 50% of exports from Barbados are sold regionally, underscoring the significance of trade relationships and arrangements in the Caribbean and Latin America. Other important trading partners include Russia the United States and China.
Barbados is one of only two countries (with Trinidad and Tobago) in the region who is not party to Venezuela’s Petro-Caribe scheme that provides preferential or deferred payment options for purchasing oil. In March 2012, Trinidad and Tobago Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine announced the construction of a natural gas pipeline between the two countries to commence in 2013. The Eastern Caribbean Gas Pipeline Company project will involve a 300-kilometre long pipeline from Tobago to Barbados, and is projected to supply Barbados with 30 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.
Barbados continues to play a lead role in the promotion of regional market integration. In January 2006, the CSME came into effect, allowing for the free trade of goods and services between CARICOM countries (except the Bahamas and Haiti, which have not joined the CSME) and the free movement of certain categories of labour. The Caribbean Court of Justice, sitting in its original jurisdiction, acts as a CSME disputes mechanism. As evidence of their strong commitment to regional integration, the offices of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy Unit and the Office of Trade Negotiations as well as the CARICOM Development Fund were relocated to Barbados in December 2012. Further information on the CSME can be found on the Caribbean webpage.
The Australia-Barbados bilateral relationship is largely underpinned by sporting links and joint membership of the Commonwealth. Australia and Barbados cooperate on a range of multilateral issues, including effective action on climate change and pursuit of an international Arms Trade Treaty.
Regionally, the Australian Government has sought to strengthen its ties with the Caribbean, and formally established relations with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by then Prime Minister Rudd, on 29 November 2009. The MOU builds on areas of mutual interest including climate change and disaster risk reduction, economic resilience, and people-to-people and institutional linkages.
Economic and trade relationship
Trade between Australia and Barbados is modest, with the balance of trade in Australia's favour. In 2011-12, total two-way merchandise trade was A$5.1 million, with Australian merchandise exports, primarily alcoholic beverages and beef, at A$3.2 million. Australian imports from Barbados are primarily alcoholic beverages. For the latest economic data, refer to the Barbados economic fact sheet [PDF 35 KB].
Food is a major import commodity for Barbados and opportunities exist in both the domestic and tourist markets. Processed food, beef, lamb, wine and dairy products are some sectors where opportunities might be pursued.
The tourism industry provides a steady market for imports. Australian know-how and expertise in hotel and resort development is another area with potential. The provision of telecommunications services could also represent an area of opportunity following earlier deregulation of the sector.
Updated February 2013