Remarks by Hon Andrew A. Fahie
Premier of the Virgin Islands
And Minister for Finance
BVI Intra-Regional Commerce and Trade Symposium (Virtual)
30 March, 2020
Heads of the Chambers of Commerce and Business Organizations from across the CARICOM and OECS region,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A pleasant Good Day and God’s Blessings to each and every one of you and your families. I pray that you and your loved ones are safe and in good health.
Let me begin by firstly thanking you for your participation in this symposium, especially given the short notice of our invitation and the dislocation being caused by the Coronavirus Global Public Health Emergency.
Your enthusiasm confirms that there is a convergence of views that things need to be done and they have to happen now.
I take it that you also see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon and you recognise, as we do, that the Coronavirus itself is not, and will not be, the only challenge for us to overcome.
The present and projected economic impacts of this pandemic will prove to be another major test for us all.
The very necessary social distancing protocols are affecting all workplaces from factories to administration offices. They are affecting sales, whether it is large businesses or small cottage operations. They are also affecting customers’ ability to access goods.
And, as stockpiles in warehouses become depleted, another challenge will come because factories are not operating at previous rates. In some cases, raw materials are difficult to obtain, especially imported materials. Where will the goods come from to satisfy customer needs and to fuel economic activity, particularly for countries, economies and businesses that depend on import?
What will be the fate of the Caribbean people when the major export countries decide that they must keep their stocks for their people and they have no spare stocks to export to us?
You know as well as I do, my friends, that day is just around the bend. As a matter of fact now that the Coronavirus is here.
These are trying times, but they are temporary. And, as I said in my letter to you, we must not be so tunnel-visioned with our focus on the virus itself, and consumed by the happenings in the present moment, that we lose sight of the fact that there is a tomorrow that needs planning for.
The lack of access to basic goods such as food, collapse of businesses, loss of jobs, social dislocation, and so forth, will compound the impact of the virus. And if we are not prepared to stave off that threat, then we will really be in trouble.
By beginning to put our plans in place today, we will be ahead of the curve. Your businesses will thank you. Your people will thank you. The region will thank you.
I want to take this moment to remind all Caribbean people that we are in this together and together we shall emerge from this. We are all well aware that when the going gets tough, we can count on our Caribbean brothers and sisters.
As I had indicated in my letter of 10 March, 2020, the BVI’s initial intention was to invite your respective memberships to build relationships with local businesses for the purpose of increasing our trade within the region.
Most of you are aware that the BVI suffered extensive infrastructural damage in 2017 when we were hit by two back-to-back devastating Category 5 hurricanes.
Our hotels, residences, commercial properties and public infrastructure need rebuilding.
As we accelerate our rebuilding programme, the BVI is, therefore, in the market for everything from nails to lumber to roofing materials, doors and windows – and fixtures; and we need these in substantial quantities.
We are going Green and we are going SMART, and therefore if you are in those areas of business, the BVI is a market you will want to pay attention to.
The BVI is a popular tourist destination and we entertain a lot of boat charters, yachts and hotel guests. There is a high demand for quality food products – processed and unprocessed, as well as apparel and other goods. The possibilities are, literally, limitless in terms that it is almost a certainty that any goods produced in the region is needed in the BVI, right down to tissue paper.
My now-one-year-old administration was working towards laying the groundwork to facilitate the BVI being able to source these products from within the CARICOM-OECS region. We believe that the manufacturers and producers in these countries have quality goods to offer.
We believe you have the productive capacity.
We believe that if the region works together, we can have these quality goods delivered in each country at competitive prices.
We understand that success depends on being able to cross the break-even points for volumes in production and shipping.
By working together, we can establish the volumes for production and consumption that will not only make trade viable, but it will stimulate business growth and economic growth in the participating countries. By working together, we can guarantee that our people are fed and clothed; that our Caribbean businesses survive and thrive; that we create jobs for our people; and, that we stabilise the social and economic situation in our countries. We cannot depend on those other large countries to look after our wellbeing – especially now that they are dealing with crises of mammoth proportions on their soil.
Coming out of this symposium, I hope that we can lay the foundation for the exchange of information from your respective business directories and the establishment of business relationships.
We must be aware of who can supply what products, where the markets are and the quantities needed, and we must bring suppliers, buyers and shippers together.
We must not look at each other’s country, or our own country, in isolation. We must look at the collective.
I hope that we can identify what are the impediments to the movement of goods, so that we can tackle the solutions to free up and speed up the movement of goods.
I would like us to be able to get the logistics worked out so that we can get things going. I want you to tell my team and I what you need us to do the make things happen.
We also need to explore innovative options for driving production. One area worth exploring is that of models for investment.
For instance, some countries have lots of arable land or natural resources. They have the perfect geographic locations for manufacturing and mass distribution, but they do not have the manpower to maximise its use, or financial investment is needed.
By taking a cooperative approach, we can create the conditions for success.
We have to rethink, reimagine and reconfigure our shipping routes. We have to figure out the formula that works.
I always tell my people that we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the greater good. This means we have to accept that expectations need to be adjusted for the reality of the new world environment that is defined by phenomena such as COVID-19.
I am confident that if we let this virus be the catalyst that forces us to find and implement the new solutions to our old problems, when the threat of the virus subsides, we may find that there is no need to go back to the old trade models, but to continue building on what we would have started.
With these few words, I once again, with joy, say thank you for your presence and your participation. I pray that our good works will bear fruit now and well into the future, and that God Almighty continues to watch over our people. As one Caribbean region, we will move forward.
I thank you.