Editorial | Mr Shaw’s tuna idea
One of the things we admire about Audley Shaw is his aspirational optimism.
As finance minister, even when the macroeconomic fundamentals weren't quite right, you sensed his will in talking them into alignment and delivering, say, low interest rates, a stable exchange rate and moderate inflation. Which is not to say that he didn't believe in, or understand the need to maintain the right policies, if these achievements were to be sustainable. It was just this sense that he thought the details could catch up.
Mr Shaw has brought the same dare-do enthusiasm and big dreaming to his new job as the minister with responsibility for industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, a trait that could help make a success of the portfolio. His call for Jamaicans to take a big plunge into the "blue economy", which means the exploitation of the country's ocean resources, is a case in point.
This week, for instance, he suggested that local entrepreneurs, as well as foreign investors, get into the business of catching and canning tunas, which he said were "swimming past Jamaica in the deep waters" unmolested, while "people from Trinidad are waiting down there, when they come".
It is a fact that Trinidad and Tobago fishersfolk harvest around 400 tonnes of tuna, mostly yellow fin, and tuna-like fish, annually. However, researchers have warned that the catch is increasingly unsustainable, given the over-exploitation of tuna species in the North Atlantic, including Trinidad, where the taking of juveniles is also a problem.
This, however, doesn't necessarily obviate Mr Shaw's larger point of Jamaica attempting to get a piece of an industry with an end-use value of around US$43 billion a year, including US$9.8 billion earned by fishersfolk from the 4.9 million tonnes of the species they land. The canned tuna business, mostly of using albacore and skipjacks, account for around 28 per cent of the industry's earnings.
Significantly, over 70 per cent of the top seven species of tuna harvested annually is caught in the Pacific, contributing around two-thirds of the end value of the product.
The point is that, on the face of it, entry into the commercial tuna business is likely to demand far more than aspiration and inspiration, but has to be driven by hard, cold, business analysis. This analysis including the cost of establishing and kitting out an ocean-going tuna fleet; and whether a Jamaican industry can be competitive with those of Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and so on. This calculation also has to take into account the growing concerns for the preservation of the tuna species, which is inspiring international regulations on fishing.
What, of course, Mr Shaw's ministry is in the best position to do, is to provide the appropriate data, encourage the Government of its part in establishing a stable and competitive macroeconomic environment, and leave businesses to make rational investment decisions.
There is, however, a low-hanging fruit, about which Jamaican officials have long spoken, which Mr Shaw should pluck, to the benefit of his constituents and the economy, more broadly. The Jamaican Government each year spends round J$5 billion on school-feeding and related programmes. Much of that money leaks out of the national economy, ending up in the pockets of foreign farmers and food processors.
Mr Shaw should aggressively lead a charge to have the Government declare a policy that 100 per cent of the food served in school canteens should not only represent a balanced diet, but must be from 100 per cent Jamaican-grown produce. That would be a shot in the arm for domestic agriculture.