May 21, 2022 News
Kaieteur News – As Regional leaders pursue a robust plan to ensure food security by cutting down their respective food import bill by 25 percent over the next three years, most if not all of them agree that there must be a removal of “illegal trade barriers” between members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
This joint position was echoed on Thursday by at least three Heads of Government, as the three-day inaugural Regional Agri-Investment Forum was launched, at the National Cultural Centre, Georgetown, under the theme ‘Investing in Vision 25 by 2025’.
Setting the stage for these discussions was the CARICOM Chairman and Prime Minister of Belize, John Briceno, who lectured conference delegates on the important role the removal of trade barriers would play, as countries join efforts to ensure food security in the region, amidst strains in the global supply chains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently the war between Russia and Ukraine.
He said, “Already we know that agriculture represents a clear opportunity for increased investment in agricultural production and agro-processing. It is therefore imperative that action is taken to maximize the benefits of present opportunities. In spite of the current global challenges, there are abundant opportunities in this sector that can result in enhancing our goal to ensure regional food security as well as increasing economic activity.”
To this end, the Chairman urged, “As a CARICOM region, we must do better to remove those technical barriers for trade that most of us impose on each other. Let us instead use our efforts and energies to adopt policies to support the growth of the agro-productive sector, improve market facilitation and develop intra-regional transportation.”
He added that the Agri-investment forum was the opportune time to facilitate and support the private sector, by strengthening relations between member states, to further facilitate business engagements and investment opportunities.
Echoing his sentiment was the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, who took to the stage following Briceno. The Prime Minister stressed that the forum was a good starting point for action, as he pushed for the Regional leaders present to take the necessary steps to solidify the achievement of ‘25 by 2025’.
“We need to move from rhetoric to firm decisions for the advancement of the region’s agricultural sector in achieving food sovereignty and food security. We must also result to act urgently in our own interest, including by honouring the terms of the CARICOM Treaty and not permitting breaches of it by let’s say countries from time to time impose these illegal non-tariff barriers on goods, particularly products from other member states,” Browne said as he received a resounding applause from the audience.
Similarly, the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit explained that while the Region is blessed with the ability to supply itself with most of what it needs, the trade challenge remains in effect.
He reasoned, “The reality is, I can’t understand why is it that I am able to export avocadoes to Europe and North America, but I cannot export it to some Caribbean countries, and I can’t understand how we can export ginger, which is such in high demand to help fight COVID-19, but we cannot supply the Region but we can send it out to Europe and out to North America.”
Skerrit explained that the Heads of Government must make the decisions and the actions necessary to transform regional agriculture and give farmers the comfort and confidence they need.
“I think we need to itemize the actions we need to take and take them. If we are to allow CARICOM, our ordinary folks to feel like they are part of an integration process, especially our farmers and fisherfolk, they must be able to benefit from that process…and so we have to remove all of this fictitious impositions that we put in…these are all just unnecessary actions that we take,” the Prime Minister added.
Locally, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) have been bitterly complaining of the trade barriers implemented by Trinidad and Tobago in particular. In fact, just before the launch of the Agri-Investment Forum, the private sector body issued a statement to the press in which it advised the government to not sign any agreements with the twin island, until it removes the non-tariff embargo that is preventing Guyanese businesses from exporting produce to that country.
Trinidadian manufacturers had stated in March that non-tariff barriers were hampering the importation of agricultural produce from Guyana. That country’s Manufacturers Association’s (TTMA), CEO, Dr. Mahindra Ramdeen had said that it was not that Trinidad’s private sector did not want to import from Guyana, but that the political directorate needed to clear the hurdles.
Phytosanitary and sanitary measures were said to be curtailing the pace of the trade. The measures were also said to be in place so that produce could be sourced from other places.
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