Clarke: imports figure not the full picture
A leading retailer has called on Government to provide a fuller picture of the goods being imported into Bermuda.
Paula Clarke, chief executive officer of Gibbons Company and head of the retail division of the Chamber of Commerce, said a decision by Government to release “selected overseas declarations” figures for the first time in the December 2018 Retail Sales Index report was welcome — but the figures did not reveal the full impact of online shopping from overseas sources.
In total, shoppers spent $108 million at local retailers in December, down from $111.9 million the year previous.
The newly-included data on “selected overseas declarations” by residents show a total of $20.4 million of goods brought in, equivalent to nearly one fifth of total sales at local stores.
The breakdown includes $7 million declared by returning residents at LF Wade International Airport, and $10.6 million brought in by courier. Imports by households via sea amounted to $2.2 million, and imports via the Post Office amounted to $0.6 million.
“The report refers to ‘selected overseas declarations’,” Ms Clarke said. “The information gathered is for goods brought in for individual households. It doesn’t give the whole picture of online shopping.
“The figures are not accounting for goods brought in by other means, and for commercial businesses. If someone brings in a container, it’s not caught. If your friend brings in something for you via the airport, they’re not a resident, so it’s not caught.
“If goods are brought in from overseas by a company, it’s not reported as online shopping. For example, a business buys office equipment, carpets, and so on. It is not recorded here.
“If we are not seeing what money is going out of the island to be spent on retail products, then the report is not giving the full picture.
“So, at last, thank you, we knew the information was available and we are glad to see the reporting that is there — but what we need is the complete picture.
“Why has the information been withheld in the past when clearly it has been available for so long, and why are only selected categories being reported?”
The report revealed that retail sales volume fell for a tenth successive month, which Ms Clarke called “disappointing, but not surprising”.
“The population is shrinking — that is the biggest issue,” she said. “What retailers need, and what the country needs and all businesses need, is to increase the population of Bermuda. We need more feet on the ground.
“It is glaringly obvious that we need more people in Bermuda to support all the services that Bermudian companies provide.
“Government has to look at reviewing the legislation regarding immigration, and Bermuda needs to be more welcoming to job creators.”
One of every nine jobs in Bermuda, Ms Clarke said, is retail-related. “That is before you consider all the support services that retailers use such as electricians, stone masons, carpenters, accounting firms, lawyers, and so on.
“Retailers in Bermuda work hard to create value for local customers. The retail sector is a closed category for hiring. If a retailer fails, it means job losses, which retailers work hard to avoid.”
Ms Clarke called for retailers and courier companies to be treated equally when it comes to reporting goods imported to the island. Retailers, she said, must comply with some 480 customs tariff codes contained in some 400 pages of such codes. Couriers, she said, must comply only with a simplified tariff code that is covered in just 2½ pages.
“That is not fair to brick-and-mortar businesses,” she said. “We abide by the ‘large book’ while couriers comply with a simplified tariff code.
“That doesn’t give the full picture. Courier companies are held to a lower standard, and are not compliant with the full, harmonised tariff code. It points out a double standard, one for courier companies and a higher standard for retailers.”