Our Readers' Opinions
March 24, 2017
Going forward

by C I Martin

Governments in smalL countries inevitably have to play a bigger role in the economy than they do in larger ones. Comparison of events in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and Wenzhou provides a stark illustration of this. Wenzhou is not a country nor even a province. Rather it is a city of 4,500 square miles with a population of nine million people in China. There, the people got fed up of their poverty and started setting up their own businesses. But with China, then being a full communist country, such activity was the responsibility of the State and the people were arrested and jailed. Later, however, the Government called a conference on entrepreneurship. People were afraid to attend, feeling they would be arrested. Instead, the opposite happened. They were encouraged to set up businesses and those who had been jailed were released. They set up factories and started selling goods all over China. Not only that, they took on some government functions, such as building roads and ports. They even built their own large airport and set up their own airline, Today Wenzhou is one of the richest cities in China.

SVG, with a mere 110,000 people in an area of 150 square miles and no hinterland to sell manufactured goods, could not do likewise. Here, the Government, by selling land and begging whosoever will, has managed to build a comparatively large airport. It now wants the private sector to make full use of the airport and promote development. The way ahead involves, among other things, the export of agricultural products, returnees and tourism.

Several Vincentians have already shown admirable initiative in trying to export flowers, pepper sauce, spices and the like. These persons must be encouraged and others should join them. It would be interesting to see the role of the expanded Vincyfresh in all this. The Government can help, if it has not already done so, by getting good consultants to advise on which products we should focus, how to produce them and where they can be sold.

Many Vincentian emigrants visit their fatherland regularly. This is to be encouraged and they should get their children and friends to visit also. This is of particular relevance, as so many people are seeking to get involved in in the Air BnB business. We are probably knocking at an open door here. Look how many returnees took pains to raise funds for the construction of the airport!! What we do not want them saying is that their friends and relatives in SVG are dead; let us sell out what we have there and instead go on cruise ships for our holidays.

And now to tourism. Our economy does not function exactly like that of a big country. In a big country people consume goods and a lot of these goods are produced in the country. The major force driving that big economy is, therefore, its own consumers; hence, the economy is often described as consumer driven. In our small country, we too consume a variety of goods. Our country, however, is too small to produce those goods, for example, motor vehicles, medicines, building materials and clothes. We, therefore, import them, but to pay for them we have to export something; so our economy is export driven. When we exported bananas to the UK, the situation was fairly straightforward. But now we no longer do so and cannot find any single crop to replace the bananas. We, therefore, have to rely more on services, mainly tourism, for export earnings.

We have several small hotels and this is good. However, the real big earners for our tourism are places like Mustique and Canouan. Mustique even lent our Government money some time ago. Now Mustique was developed by the English aristocrat, Colin Tennant and a Venezuelan billionaire. The Italian Saladino did similar work in Canouan. Even Young Island Hotel was started by a foreigner, the American hotelier John Houser.

Like many others, I can write all sorts of things, but I do not have the capital, the contacts and the knowhow to pull off ventures on the Mustique scale. The Government is, therefore, right to take all measures to attract foreign investors, even if things sometimes go wrong. Talk will not fill the shelves of our shops with the goods we want, nor provide the jobs we so desperately need.