By Orville Williams
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has highlighted new product development and ‘seaspace monetisation’ as some of the areas that could prove beneficial in generating revenue for the country, as the foray continues into the Blue Economy and its promise of opportunities.
The prime minister was speaking yesterday during the virtual signing ceremony for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the government, the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the University of the West Indies, toward a Centre of Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy at the Five Islands campus.
According to the university, “the centre aims to develop specialist research expertise and strengthen institutional capacity in the areas of marine science and the blue economy, while capitalising on the economic opportunities for the Caribbean within this emerging sector.”
Considering the quality of the surrounding waters and the growing need for economic diversification – particularly due to the Covid-19 pandemic – Browne said the Blue Economy could prove vital to the country’s prospects for the future.
“I think that this represents a great opportunity for the people of Antigua and Barbuda and the wider Caribbean, as we seek to exploit our oceanic resources in a sustainable way.
“One of the problems that faces the Caribbean region is the issue of having economies that require diversification. In fact, many of the small economies within the Caribbean are heavily-dependent on tourism. Covid would have exposed that vulnerability and accelerated the need for diversification.
“I believe that one of the areas in which we could sustainably diversify our economies is in the area of the Blue Economy [and] that is why my government would have literally accelerated investments and even policies and programmes for the Blue Economy,” Browne explained.
The waters surrounding Antigua and Barbuda and the rest of the region, have been utilised largely in our history, to provide sustenance and an avenue for transportation. Allowing for more research and ‘outside the box’ thinking though, Browne said the centre could be a catalyst for even greater revenue generation.
“We believe that this programme should help us with research and development. In fact, in essence, it is really a new frontier for the Caribbean archipelago as we seek to exploit resources, not only to provide food and nutrition, but also potentially medicines to create new products which we can trade to earn revenue…I believe too that there’s opportunities for us to develop marine entrepreneurs – individuals who can utilise our marine resources for entrepreneurship, to provide income [and] career opportunities,” Browne said.
“We also see the potential for us to even maybe put some form of levy in place, in which we can benefit from maritime transportation. Similar to how our airspace is utilised to generate revenue, we believe that our ‘seaspace’ could be a source of revenue for countries within the Caribbean, because more and more sea transportation is being built and it’s important for us to benefit from the use of our marine space.”
While the majority of the prime minister’s suggestions were focused on direct benefit to Antigua and Barbuda and the region, he noted that the waters may also be required as part of an effort to sustain the growing, global population.
“The potential is enormous and we recognise too that globally, when you look at the explosion in the human population – it’s estimated by 2050 it should get up to over nine billion, maybe closer to 10 billion people – clearly we’re going to have a problem in terms of land space to even grow food.
“So, the oceans will become very important from the standpoint of sustaining human populations. So, it will go beyond the whole issue of mere sustenance for probably the poor and vulnerable, and the other traditional uses in terms of transportation and so on – but will become a significant future resource to sustain global livelihood,” the prime minister added.
With all these potential adjustments and improvements, the quality and condition of the waters will undoubtedly come under some threat. This was also noted by Browne, who said, “perhaps most important is the preservation of that [seaspace], to keep our waters pristine and to avoid the type of marine debris, plastics and so on, that in the past were utilized to indiscriminately pollute our waters. That in itself represents a significant risk for those of us who are dependent on tourism”.
The virtual signing of the MOU took place early yesterday, with Browne signing alongside Professor Sir Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies and Professor Sir Ed Byrne of the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
Also in attendance were the minister with responsibility for the Blue Economy, Dean Jonas, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the UWI Five Islands Campus, Professor Densil Williams, and Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland