Pres. Ali to introduce ‘comprehensive strategy’ to tackle food import bill at CARICOM Heads of Gov’t meeting


President Dr. Irfaan Ali, who is the Lead Head of Government for agriculture in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Quasi-Cabinet, is expected to introduce a new comprehensive strategy that will tackle the Caribbean’s expensive food import bill and help guarantee the region’s food security.

President Dr Irfaan Ali (center); Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha (left) and Foreign Minister Hugh Todd, arrive in Belize for the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting (Photo: Office of the President/February 28, 2022)

This strategy will be presented to the Thirty-Third Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads of Government of CARICOM. This face-to-face meeting is being hosted in Belize on Tuesday and Wednesday.

President Ali told the News Room that this “comprehensive strategy” is expected to help the region reduce its food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025- three years from now.

The region’s food import bill is more than US$4 billion annually. In Guyana, which is known for its agricultural prowess, about 40 per cent of the food consumed is imported.

President Dr Irfaan Ali and President of Suriname, Chandrikapersaud Santokhi (center) arrive in Belize for the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting (Photo: Office of the President/February 28, 2022)

As the lead Head on agriculture for the region, Guyanese authorities have been aggressively working towards boosting food production within the region so that the demand for imports would be reduced.

In Guyana alone, several new initiatives have been launched to increase the crops planted and meat produced.

But boosting food production with the aim of reducing imports is not the only effort being undertaken by Guyana. The country has also been advocating for the removal of intra-regional trade barriers that hinder the easy trade of the produce.

Since assuming office in August 2020, President Ali has fervently advocated for the removal of intra-regional trade barriers.

It is important to note that CARICOM is a regional bloc built on a model of promoting free movement of people and goods within the region. Many countries – not just Guyana – have criticised CARICOM for not yet achieving this.

And President Ali noted that CARICOM’s economic integration efforts, being led by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, will help with the removal of these barriers.

“I look forward to a focused discussion on the implementation of the CSME led by Prime Minister Mottley and as part of the Agri food system and CSME discussion, an actionable timetable and commitment required for the removal of trade barriers that are strangling [intra-regional] trade, especially on food supply,” Dr. Ali said.

Adding to this, Dr. Ali highlighted that regional transportation, logistics and security are other key areas that should be discussed at the Heads of Government meeting.

“It is also my hope that as a community we will be able to set targets in some key areas and those targets must be time-bound, implementable of which the Region must be accountable to achieving,” Dr. Ali emphasised.

He also addressed ongoing Ukraine- Russia crisis, stating that CARICOM should have a full discussion on this matter.

“We must reinforce that this is a Region of peace where we respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations,” the Guyanese Head-of-State said.

Both the Guyanese government and CARICOM have issued statements condemning Russia’s hostilities against Ukraine; both parties have also advocated for the return to diplomacy instead of the ongoing warfare.

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