Unlocking the Potential of the Blue Economy

Her Excellency Karen-Mae Hill
Antigua and Barbuda High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

For more years than many of us care to remember, economists have highlighted the critical need to diversify Caribbean economies away from an overdependence on tourism. Multiple examples exist of the impact that shocks such as hurricanes, vector-borne diseases or, as is the present case, a global pandemic, can have on revenue, plunging Caribbean economies into a dire financial situation with few options for accessing concessional financing. 

Roll forward 2020, and we are facing one of the greatest challenges to our economic survival as a region. Coronavirus has struck, with the force of multiple category 5 hurricanes in one, in the heart of our tourism season. It has diverted limited Government finances to prop up health and social safety nets and suppressed appetite in our source markets for long haul travel at least in the short to medium term. 

Our oceans have always played a vital role in our development model. The World Bank in 2016 estimated that the ocean economy in the Caribbean generated gross revenues of US$407 billion. This is equivalent to 14% to 27% of the estimated value of the global ocean economy and is a significant figure given the fact that the Caribbean Sea accounts for less than 1% of the total global area of oceans. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that by 2030, ocean industries will employ 40 million full-time equivalent jobs, with the fastest growth expected in offshore wind energy, marine aquaculture, fish processing and port activities. 

Antigua and Barbuda is characterised as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). SIDS share certain common challenges and vulnerabilities, which in the development context, seriously constrain their ability to invest in resilient development and challenge growth prospects. These constraints include inter alia, high exposure to global economic shocks, limited opportunities to access finance and acute vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change. Notwithstanding our small land area in relative terms, Antigua and Barbuda has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 110,071 square kilometres. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines the EEZ as a sea zone over which a state has exclusive rights in relation to the exploration and use of marine resources. Juxtapose this with our land mass of 440 km2. Antigua and Barbuda is an ocean rich country.

The blue economy is an area of development which potentially responds to the sustainable development and economic growth aims of the Caribbean. It is consistent with Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.7, which focuses on the sustainable use of marine resources. The Commonwealth Secretariat describes the blue economy as a sector that maximises the economic value of the marine environment and preserves and protects the sea’s resources and ecosystems. 

The Caribbean Development Bank in its publication Financing the Blue Economy: A Caribbean Development Opportunity (2018) notes that new and high-value blue economy growth industries such as aquaculture, marine biotechnology, deep seabed mining, and ocean renewable energy remain under-developed in the Caribbean. Researchers have proposed that advancing a development strategy which includes the blue and green economy can position the Caribbean to improve food security, promote the growth of existing productive sectors, invest in new and high-value blue economy industries and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. 

Across the region, Governments are increasingly focusing on this area as an important economic driver with significant potential. The following, non-exhaustive list of examples, will illustrate this point:

  • In 2013, OECS Heads of Government adopted the Eastern Caribbean Regional Oceans Policy and Action Plan. This regional policy provides a framework that guides the planning and development of marine activities in the Eastern Caribbean region in a rational and sustainable manner.
  • Since 2016, Antigua and Barbuda has been actively engaged in developing key initiatives under the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme, the OECD Sustainable Oceans for All initiative, the Commonwealth Blue Charter and the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance.
  • In 2016, supported by World Bank funding, Grenada produced a Blue Growth Coastal Master Plan designed to sustainably generate new jobs, foster alternative livelihoods, and expand the economy. Grenada’s land size is 348.5 km2 with an EEZ of 27,426 km2.
  • In 2018, Barbados established the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy. Barbados’ maritime space covers 186,898 km2, and its land mass is 431 km2. The Barbadian Government has recognised that this maritime space provides an opportunity to advance the economic interest of the country. The Government also stated that this is an economic sector which remains underdeveloped, fragmented and unexplored.
  • In 2019, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica established a Ministry of the Blue and Green Economy, Agriculture and National Food Security with the objective of promoting sustainable growth and development. Dominica’s land mass is 750 km2, and its EEZ is 28,985 km2.

As Antigua and Barbuda moves to formalise and consolidate work in this important growth area, deliberate care must be given to creating and supporting the enabling environment to allow this Ministry to thrive. The blue economy as a concept naturally overlaps with other Ministries and agencies and will require co-operation across multiple sectors as well as the implementation of the appropriate legislative, regulatory and policy framework. 

That organisations like the OECD are describing the oceans as the “new economic frontier” is instructive. What we must not allow as a country and as a region, is to remain outside this wave of global investment. Our strategy must identify pathways to growth that create employment and reduce poverty while preserving the health of our oceans. Becoming innovators and entrepreneurs and not merely consumers in this space will be the challenge for our region.  

I look forward to the work of our Ministry of the Blue Economy as Antigua and Barbuda seeks to continue and expand work in this area.