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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Developing our other offshore industry

Pat Hoyos, [email protected]

NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Developing our other offshore industry

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HOW DO YOU say you’re sorry in the high level stakes’ world of diplomacy? Well, if you just unfairly blacklisted a country, for example, one remedy would be to fast-forward your negotiations and hurriedly sign a Double Taxation Agreement with them.

Now, in my simplistic understanding of the world of offshore business, signing a DTA is a good thing: it means that your companies can set up other companies in the jurisdiction you have signed a DTA with and when revenue flows through it (called the domicile) and pays a small rate of taxation, then it can repatriate the rest if the profits without incurring double taxes, as it were, back home.

Italy sent out one of its best people to sign that DTA with us last week and all through the official remarks you could hear the country trying to let us know that we should never have been put on their blacklist of uncooperative countries or whatever it was about, but, of course, we’re not off it yet. But we should be. Soon.

It is enough to make you run screaming for the door. And while I am grateful that we have an offshore sector that seems to be once more gathering some steam, it’s still mostly Greek to me.

So I was happy to hear someone take up the plight of our other offshore industry, the one where words really mean what they originally set out to mean and have not been co-opted to bring some sort of down-home tangible feeling to the essentially intangible and the often obscure, as you will often find, well, in the “international business” sector.

Even that phrase annoys me because of its blandness.

Anyway, our other offshore industry has been there long before the more recent one and is really offshore. Like, in the sea. Yes, I mean the fishing industry. Where you go to really fish, for fish, not compliments or excuses.

The man who had a few comments to make about it last week was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Esworth Reid. He said the “informal nature” of the fishing industry in the Caribbean was holding back its growth.

Addressing a workshop on the sector, Mr Reid said there was a need for a greater “formalisation” of the industry. He also added that that the contribution to gross domestic product made by “fish harvesting” was highly underestimated due to poor record keeping.

Now, I always thought fishing was run as a business, so I was surprised to hear this characterisation of it as being still fairly informal, I guess. And I was fascinated by the idea that this very informality probably causes estimates of its contribution to GDP to be much too low.

Paraphrasing the BGIS story on the matter, Mr Reid suggested that integrating the sector into the economy as a formal economic sub-sector would lead to a better evaluation of its contribution to GDP of all countries in the Caribbean, and the formalisation of all activities in the industry might reduce the chances of vessels being registered as fishing boats and then “being used for something other than fishing, for example, movement of illegal drugs or firearms.”

These are words and meanings I can understand. I don’t know if Mr Reid’s reading of the situation is correct, but he was clear about what he said, which I interpret as follows: the fishing industry in Barbados probably contributes a lot more to our  economy than can be measured at the moment, due to the lack of reliable record keeping; and the very informality of the industry that causes this may also be allowing the industry to be used for shady purposes.

Two most interesting points, especially given the growing crime wave we are experiencing in this country with guns just appearing seemingly out of nowhere.

Pat Hoyos is a journalist and publisher specialising in business.