Although lobster exports from Barbuda have been steadily increasing after Hurricane Irma, the threat of the coronavirus has affected shipments from the sister island to one of its most important markets.
“Unfortunately for us, we lost the Chinese market due to the coronavirus. This is impacting us in every way, shape and form unfortunately, but we’re hoping and praying that things get under control soon enough, so we can reenergise that aspect of our exports,” chairman of the Agriculture Committee on the Barbuda Council, Devon Warner, told Observer on Thursday.
Cases of the virus, officially known as COVID-19, have been rapidly increasing across the globe, with several travel restrictions being implemented as countries seek to secure their borders.
Though authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) and China itself have advised against any possible trade restrictions in the face of the virus, the trade structures in place with Chinese importers would inevitably be impacted.
This impact has reached Barbuda, with Warner lamenting the loss of Barbuda’s largest overseas lobster market.
“[The Chinese market] was extremely [significant], because during the time when we weren’t exporting to different territories, that is where we used to export to, through our lobster buyer from Antigua,” he said.
Nonetheless, Warner said that the fisheries sector is indeed recovering following the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma in 2017.
“It’s recovering nicely; we now have the reintroduction of the exports to the European territories – which was absent for quite a while. Mr Lincoln Burton has started his exports again, to St Maarten [and] actually he had two shipments for this week and I think before the end of the week, he might have another shipment,” he explained.
While Barbuda has established trade markets in some neighbouring European territories such as Guadeloupe and St Maarten, Warner confirmed that no such agreements are in place within the actual European Union. This, he said, the Barbudans are working hard to change.
“No, we haven’t established that, [but] it is something that we’re looking into, to see how we can monopolise on exporting directly to the European Union. It would be [very lucrative for Barbuda], but I guess it’s making the connections in getting the flight arranged, then to do whatever’s necessary.
“We have already met the European standards, so we would be able to export to them; it’s just to find suitable buyers in the European Union that would want to do business with us,” Warner said.
“We have been reaching out, we’ve been putting our information out there and we’re hoping that in good time, somebody might see the importance of connecting with us in regard to that,” the Agriculture Committee chair added.