Weathering the financial fallout that is anticipated should the financial services sector of the BVI economy take a hit is not incumbent on the Territory finding and honing a third economic pillar. Instead it was explained that the BVI can commence the shoring up by implementing a myriad of supplemental services that can generate or surpass what financial services brings in.
The suggestion was made by John Samuel, who will be contesting the 2019 elections as the Virgin Islands Party’s Sixth District candidate. He made these points as one of the presenters during the Tortola Consultative meeting that was held on 22 August at Treasure Isle Hotel as part of a series of consultative meetings that were organized by Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Andrew Fahie and aimed at preparing the views of the BVI in response to the UK’s inquiry on the future relationships between the United Kingdom and the overseas territories.
In his presentation Samuels noted that supplementing with value added services might be a good way for the Territory to go in terms of maintaining economic growth. “Whenever we think of the economy we think of financial services — which every ten days we say oh financial services is going to take a dive what we going do and then we wake up from the dream and we don’t do anything and then we wake up and say financial services is going to take a dive what we going do.”
“A lot of time we think of replacing financial services with one industry and it doesn’t have to be one industry, it could be multiple small industries that make up the same economy, that’s the way you will able to diversify. That’s the way you can get more of your people involved in the economic development,” he explained.
Samuels said that aligning these new services to support or cushion the economy would require United Kingdom assistance. He said the key to garnering such support would require that the Territory craft its economic plans to match the United Kingdom’s priorities so that the two interests align.
He further told the gathering, “Our success might require alignment with their priorities for action. In developing our position, we have to maintain in the back of our mind what they said their priorities or actions are and try to fit it into their framework as a negotiating strategy you make it look like what they want to see.”
Some of the Options
The BVI has always played with the idea of making fishing and agriculture the third pillar of the Territory’s economy and Samuel noted that this is a plan that should be actively pursued.
“The UK mentions fishing all the time and I think there are opportunities there for Assistance in developing. We don’t really fish commercially but we have a 200 mile especially to the north for exclusive economic zone…whatever is within our waters belongs to us so there is possibility there. I think the UK keeps mentioning fishing so they are saying to us fishing so we could say back — you keep telling me fishing, help me with fishing.”
In exploring an approach Samuels said: “The help could come in the form of for example training fishermen to deep see fish, providing access to vendors, to get the correct equipment – boats the long line etc whether through some grants to fishermen or through creative financing …or by simply saying we will take their fishing products to help the business plan go through.”
However, in the past, islands that partnered with big countries to create a fishing industry found there sea “vacuumed” and little or no money to show for it.
Briefly touching on agriculture he said that technology would have to play an integral part in the Territory’s plan in this regard. “We talked about agriculture and we were worried about food after Irma but our agriculture problem, we got to bring the cost down and we have to improve the methods we use: we have mechanize it in some form or the other, but the mechanization will help to bring the cost down. In my view…if we want to do agriculture on a large scale we have to sort of determine what crops we are going to focus on instead of trying to plant everything in the world, we determine what crops are better in this climate and then we focus on some crops. Maybe they can help with studies, establishing farms, helping us to mechanize. If they are interested in trade there are several.”
He also said that discussions should be had with the United Kingdom to formalize a trade arrangement that would see the UK investing in trade via training and resource provision; as well as providing a market for selling the goods.
One of the areas mentioned by Samuels as a viable economic “value added” service is cruise ship home porting. In making the suggestion he told the gathering: “Many of you will remember that in the 1990s the Flying Cloud used to be in the BVI, the Flying Cloud used to turn around in Tortola. Not only she was home ported here she would change her passengers here every week. She used to come to Port Purcell take water take, take food.”
He therefore urged that the Territory moves into the cruise ship home porting business. “If you go to cruise ship home porting it doesn’t necessarily mean you instantly go towards huge cruise ships, but you can say because the last time that the UK put out this inquiry was ten years ago, so anything we are saying to them I think we should be saying in a ten-year time frame so whatever we are saying to them this isn’t a tomorrow. We sort of saying this might be a ten-year plan.”
As it relates to how the UK comes into play in this regard Samuels said: “So you (UK) might see how you can help us start with small ships and then move on to bigger ships, but the whole issue is a huge economic driver if you could get passengers coming around. Not only would they have to come but more than like during the period before the cruise or after the cruise they would stay an extra few days when the ship has to provision – take water, take food. It could be an economic driver.”
Another economic product he said could be of use to the BVI is internet payment gateway. He explained: “A lot of us in business know we have trouble creating a gateway online so people can pay for services online with credit cards we have to muddle around with something in the US and try to get it to happen, but that would help the economy.”
Another service add-on mentioned by Samuels is ship registration, which he said was something that has been attempted before. “We had some challenges getting that off the ground certainly the UK could assist us since a lot of it has to do with developing and implementing legislations.”
Among the other suggestions was the mention that Port Purcell should be made a transshipment point. “Perhaps the UK can assist us in making a business case for further development of Port Purcell as a transshipment port. If the UK is saying that they are interested in additional trading, they would like to get their products, they would like to buy products from us then obviously there is going to be some transshipment point in the Caribbean for UK products and perhaps they could likely partner with us in some way, shape or form in expanding our ports and making our port the transshipment and turn around for a lot of UK distribution products. We need physical improvement, we need improvement in technology and equipment and management,” Samuels said.
“They can assist us in making UK BVI a direct route, as long as you start getting more demand for the route more shipping then it is easier for it to become a viable shipping route and the cost for the route,” Samuels added.
Other suggestions included aquaculture and the offering of technical training programmes that would bring foreign students to the Territory.