COVID-19 presents chance for economic reset – Levy
President and CEO of the Jamaica Broilers Group, Christopher Levy, is backing the call made by government Senator Don Wehby last Friday in the Senate for the suspension of importation of some agricultural produce as the country grapples with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As markets for food collapse, Levy is lobbying for extreme measures like the banning of ketchup imports to redirect demand for an expected oversupply of tomatoes.
In a letter to the editor sent on Tuesday, Levy argued that farmers and local manufacturers faced a drastic reduction in the demand curve.
“This can only be compensated for with an equally aggressive reduction in the importation of finished goods. It is critical that we do everything we can as a nation to retain the viability of the agriculture sector.”
He also advocated that the country tap surplus produce amid the downturn in tourism, which provided a ready market for farmers.
Yesterday, in a telephone interview with The Gleaner, Levy reinforced those arguments, declaring that the chaos into which the pandemic has thrown the market presented the chance for an economic reset.
“I think that the opportunity that faces the Government and the nation now is unique, allowing for us to realign the economy correctly,” the Jamaica Broilers CEO said.
“... Farmers who go out of business are not going to come back so easily, so we have to keep them in business because in the medium run, when the economy turns and tourism and remittances return, we are going to need those farmers to supply the value chains.”
LIFELINE FOR FARMERS
For this reason, he says the Government needs to act quickly, putting in place a policy that will give farmers the confidence to stick it out.
“Now is not the time to be playing around with this. We have to decide that we’re not going to import, that we going to invest in our economy,” said Levy, citing the current trade vision as “short-sighted”.
Jamaica Broilers is one of two main poultry producers on the local market. And Levy pivoted on his own axis by demanding “a very clear policy articulation by the Government” on the importation of chicken back into the island.
The Broilers Group – Best Dressed Chicken, in particular – has been hit by the fallout in fortunes in the hotel sector and the overall decline in economic activity, he said.
Levy said that there was still scope for importation of foodstuff such as rice, which the country does not produce, but he insisted that policymakers and investors push for further diversification of the economy. He believes that the country should shift gears to importing raw materials to feed into manufacturing, citing as an example the shelving of importation of tomato ketchup to counterbalance the glut of tomatoes set to rot in the fields islandwide.
“Bring in the raw material and make the ketchup here so our people can stay in their jobs. The ability for us to produce has got to be raised up because there is no guarantee what is going to be happening across the world over the next month with regards to global food supplies,” Levy said.