PRIME minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves has hailed Rainforest Caribbean’s investment in a new seafood processing facility in that country as the manifestation of “Caricom in action”, as the plant opened six years after the investment was first mooted for the Eastern Caribbean island.
Rainforest Caribbean has built out a 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art EC$10-million ($560 million, US$3.7 million) seafood processing facility in Calliaqua — a small town 8 kilometres south-east of the capital Kingstown — as it expands its footprint across the region. The facility is capable of processing live and frozen lobster, conch, sea cucumber and a wide range of fin fish. It has been in operation since January but was officially opened on July 15, 2022.
“What we see here is Caricom in action,” Gonsalves told the audience at the grand opening of the facility last Friday as he expressed pride in being able to attract investments to his island of 110,000 people.
The ceremony was carried live on national TV. The audience at the facility included several dignitaries in St Vincent and the Grenadines including the country’s Governor General Dame Susan Dougan, Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves and Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, as well as executives from Rainforest Caribbean and the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica, including portfolio minister Pearnel Charles Jr.
Gonsalves, 75 — the only current head of government in the region who was a signatory to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in 2001, which established the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) — said Rainforest Caribbean’s investment is part of the fulfilment of one of the four critical pillars of the CSME: economic integration in Caricom.
“I want to talk really as to how this fits in with economic integration,” he told the audience in his usually charismatic style. “In order for the economic integration to work, we have to make sure that the strengths and weaknesses of each of the respective units or countries, that those strengths and weaknesses are dissolved into the integrated whole, so that at the end of the day, the whole is more than the summation of the individual parts.
“And that is what we are having here. We have the fish, we got the conch, we got the lobster, we got the sea cucumber; but we need the capital, we need the technology, we need the marketing and we need the skill sets which we do not ourselves as yet possess, to bring together, to have this as a dimension, an aspect of the fishing industry, so that we can all do better than we did before.”
He continued: “The fishermen who sell here, they would have not had this avenue to sell, and what happens is this, the greater the demand, the more money they gonna get for their product. And, the persons who are working here in this plant, they would not have been otherwise employed. And the technology has come, the marketing is there and the skill sets which were not available here, are brought and we have something from which all of us will benefit.”
His son, Camillo Gonsalves, 50, who is the country’s minister of finance, economic planning and information technology and the parliamentary representative for the constituency of Eastern St George, in which the town of Calliaqua is located, was equally beaming about the investment and the 80 jobs the facility now provides for his constituents.
“Very often when we talk about investment, we talk about foreign direct investment and we use the word foreign to almost always mean something outside of the Caribbean. [We think] foreign direct investment means Miami or London or somewhere in South America.
“But what we have learnt in St Vincent and the Grenadines is that the best foreign direct investment is from the region. Which is why we have a hotel being built in Buccament with Jamaican owners, we have relationships that we are building with Jamaican financiers and we have here in the heart of Calliaqua, Rainforest Seafoods from right up the road in Jamaica again. All foreign direct investments, but from the region.
“So we don’t have to explain to anybody, Caribbean culture. We don’t have to explain to anybody what it takes to get something built, to work with contractors, to work with planning authorities, to understand the reality of Caribbean life, because the investment is foreign to St Vincent, but it is part of our Caribbean civilisation,” he said.
Benjamin Jardim, business development manager at Rainforest Caribbean, who was responsible for the buildout of the facility in St Vincent and the Grenadines and is now moving on to new projects across the region, including another processing facility in Belize “to go more into the value-added processing there”, said “It was a no-brainer for us to get into St Vincent.”
Apart from St Vincent and the Grenadines and its home country of Jamaica, Rainforest Caribbean has operations in Belize where it operates a shrimp farm and processing facility, and warehousing facilities in Barbados and St Lucia. The company is currently scouting other territories within Caricom for “a few other projects” and “new ideas” which Jardim acknowledged he didn’t want to get into right now.
However, regarding the St Vincent investment he said: “There were some hold backs. At the time that we were first looking [at the country for investing in 2016], there wasn’t an international airport, which would have limited our ability to get to market for particular products, but between the time of our scouting in 2016 and our grand opening in 2022, the St Vincent Government has opened up its new airport, Argyle International, which has made our investment even stronger.”
Jardim told the Jamaica Observer that the facility has three processing rooms: one for fish, one for conch and the other for ready-to-eat, value-added products.
“We also have a frozen pack out room which is where we do a lot of our frozen value-added such as steaking of fish and vacuum packing. We also have a live lobster facility with the capacity to store and export 10,000 pounds of live lobster a week. We also have our dock which we plan to extend further in the near future to accommodate larger vessels with deeper draft,” he added as he indicated that the full investment is more than the EC$10 million quoted during the ceremony.
Jardim added that Rainforest Caribbean will be buying fish from Vincentian fishermen and won’t bring its own boats to the island. “We are processors first and foremost and we would like to support the local fishing industry as best as we can, so we will 100 per cent be purchasing from local fishers.”
According to the younger Gonsalves, the Rainforest Caribbean facility aims to help his country double the output of fish annually.