By Vishani Ragobeer
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has intensified discussions on the regional agricultural sector and President Dr. Irfaan Ali says that Guyana will aggressively advocate for the elimination of intra-regional trade barriers.
Dr. Ali, who is the Lead Head of Government with responsibility for Agriculture in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet, said this while providing the keynote address for the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture on Monday.
At that forum, the President acknowledged that the Caribbean’s agricultural sector is confronted by many challenges but greater collaboration, including in possible cross-border, large-scale agricultural investments in Guyana, could help the region.
Even so, however, one key challenge he lamented is the various barriers to intra-regional trade that exist. These include non-tariff barriers including quotas, embargoes, sanctions and levies and affects some exports to CARICOM markets.
“The Caribbean has a means of securing greater self-sufficiency in food but much more needs to be done in ensuring in particular that the wheels of but intra-regional trade are not encumbered,” Dr. Ali highlighted.
CARICOM itself has been built on a model of promoting free movement of people and goods within the region but the regional body has been criticised on many occasions for not yet achieving this. On the export of goods within the Caribbean, Guyana, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica and Barbados have expressed concerns more recently.
The Head of State, however, said, “Within CARICOM, Guyana will aggressively press for the dismantling of barriers that restrain intra-regional agricultural trade.”
He added, “We are going to be bullish on this issue…if there is going to be greater regional food security, these barriers have to be dismantled.”
In addition to President Ali’s leadership in the regional agricultural sector, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha is the Chair of the Special Ministerial Taskforce on Food Production and Food Security.
And, the country has increased its advocacy on the trade barriers that exist.
In this vein, President Ali stated: “We cannot speak of significantly denting the enormous and unsustainable regional import bill and yet unwittingly or otherwise erect or keep in place non-tariff barriers that impede regional trade in agricultural produce and products.”
At the closing press conference of the Thirty-Second Inter-Sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in February, President Ali noted that the various Heads of State examined some of the barriers affecting inter-regional trade and the movement of agricultural products.
He added that once the barriers were identified, the decision was taken to work through a Regional Ministerial Task Force along with a private sector organisation and the sub-committee on the CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME) to devise an action plan.
It is expected that this plan would not only remove the existing barriers but identify specific areas to develop a strategic approach to achieve the projected outcome.