‘We must do better to remove trade barriers imposed on each other’ – CARICOM Chairman
By Vishani Ragobeer
As countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) join together in fervent efforts to boost regional food production, the bloc’s current Chairman John Briceño has called on Caribbean countries to remove trade barriers that constrain food security efforts.
“As a CARICOM region we must do better to remove those technical barriers to trade that most of us impose on each other,” Briceño, who is also the Prime Minister of Belize, said at the opening ceremony of the Agri-investment forum and expo hosted in Guyana.
Though there are many challenges that have long devilled Caribbean food security efforts, ranging from climate change to global political events, Briceño singled out the challenges of the long-standing trade barriers.
Local businesses, for example, continue to lament the trade challenges that exist when they attempt to export goods to some states like Trinidad and Tobago. These include non-tariff barriers such as quotas, embargoes, sanctions and levies and affect some exports to CARICOM markets.
These challenges have constrained the realisation of CARICOM’s free trade agreement- the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
And Prime Minister Briceño was not the only visiting regional Head of State who singled out trade challenges. The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne also highlighted this.
“We need to move from rhetoric to firm decisions…including by honouring the terms of the CARICOM Treaty and not committing breaches by countries that, from time to time, impose these illegal non-tariff barriers on goods and products,” Prime Minister Browne said.
His poignant statement was met with a rousing round of applause at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown, where the opening ceremony of the forum and expo is being hosted.
And without naming countries responsible for maintaining some trade barriers, Prime Minister Browne acknowledged that those involved in the regional agro-market are all too familiar with those countries.
URGENT NEED FOR COLLABORATION
Meanwhile, both the Belizean and Antiguan Prime Ministers touted the need for greater collaboration across the Caribbean. The Belizean Prime Minister posited that unless the countries support each other, the region may always be vulnerable to external shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine/ Russia crisis.
He, however, said: “As Heads (of government) we are convinced that President (Dr. Irfaan) Ali’s plans for agricultural development are feasible and they are imperative.”
The agri-investment forum, organised by the Guyanese Head of State, who has the lead role on agriculture in CARICOM’s quasi-cabinet, is meant to garner investments, political will and support needed to boost food security efforts in the region.
It is part of initiatives touted by Guyana’s President Ali to help CARICOM cut its hefty food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025. That food import bill has more than US $4 billion annually and is rapidly increasing because of ongoing price surges.
Meanwhile, the Antiguan Prime Minister emphasised that the need for regional collaboration is long overdue. In fact, he noted that since 2005 Guyana’s Former President and current Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo has been pushing regional food security efforts.
After losing out on about 17 years of collaboration, he said that the “Jagdeo initiative” must now be revitalised and now ably refined by President Ali.