– President Jagdeo to Caricom
…‘there has been a patent neglect of agriculture in many regional countries’
By Tusika Martin
The Caribbean Community (Caricom) needs to look at the future differently, but in doing this, regional governments must ensure that agriculture is part of those sectors that will lead the community to greater prosperity.
This is according to President Bharrat Jagdeo, who told members of the recently concluded Public-Private Sector Consultation, that there has been a ‘patent’ neglect of agriculture in many regional countries for years.
The consultation, which was hosted by the Caricom Secretariat, was a means to facilitate dialogue between buyers and sellers of agricultural products.
Speaking with the participants of the consultations, the President said that during the recently concluded meeting of Heads of States in Trinidad, he explained that the region has to ensure that the investments it makes can lead to countries emerging ‘stronger and better’.
President Jagdeo, who is also the lead Minister of Agriculture for Caricom, also pointed out that the region has been losing its dynamism for quite a while now.
With the exception of a few countries, the region’s per capita has taken a downward trend over the past three decades, he said, noting that there has been no focus on improving the competitiveness of the traditional sectors or to have new sectors spawned.
From the policy makers’ perspective, much of what will happen to agriculture in the next decade and beyond, will be determined by how serious the policymakers of the region treat agriculture.
There has been neglect from a policy and incentive perspective, President Jagdeo said, adding that constraints in terms of budgetary resources should be allocated to the sector.
He urged that the region does not become seduced by the free market fundamentalism, which occurred during the Economic Partnership Agreement, but instead, must continue to protect the regional markets.
“When we go to the negotiating table sometimes, we are ashamed and we think that if we ask for these things (subsidies) we wouldn’t be considered modern enough and that we are looking out for little handouts.”
President Jagdeo added that instead of looking at it as ‘little handouts’ regional countries need to have a perspective that will lead to craving a global trading system that caters for Caricom’s interest also.
“So clearly, if we understand the importance of the sector, we are going to argue for the appropriate trade environment within which it would prosper.”
The main recommendation that came out of the two-day Private-Public Sector Consultations, which was held at Pegasus Hotel, was the need for a Council to be established within Caricom, that will have equal representation of the public and private sector.
It was suggested that this Council be co-chaired by President Jagdeo and the Secretary General of Caricom, Dr. Edwin Carrington.
Another key proposal that was raised was the need to develop and strengthen the private sector in agriculture across the Caribbean, through a private sector network.
The donor groups that were present at the consultations, pledged that once they can see a clear ‘line of March’ worked out by the public and private sector with regards to agriculture, they will support that plan.
At the opening of the consultations on Wednesday last, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, told participants that the region has several unique agricultural products that need to be branded and marketed worldwide.
These include Guyana’s El Dorado rum, Demerara Gold Sugar and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
With the global crisis on finance, food supply, climate change and constant new threats, the Caribbean Community has to be prepared to meet these challenges to mitigate and cushion the negative impacts on its economies, the Minister had explained.
The critical task, he had challenged, is for the stakeholders to identify the building blocks required for a viable agribusiness sector.
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