‘Open for business’ – The Bahamas seeks Caribbean partners to cut US$1B import bill
By Vishani Ragobeer
The Bahamas – best known for its tourism- is hoping to reduce its dependency on imported food by growing its own agricultural sector and it is seeking to do so with the help of its sister countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
This is according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investment and Aviation Isaac Chester Cooper, who spoke at the opening of Agri-Investment Forum and Expo at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown on Thursday.
Cooper made the fervent pitch for regional partners to invest in his country, highlighting that the Bahamian people, scattered across the archipelago, import about 90 per cent of its food, at a cost of over US$1 billion annually.
“From these figures, it is clear that there is big money in food production,” the Deputy Prime Minister said as he spoke beside several other CARICOM Heads of Government.
And as he assured his fellow Heads of Government that his country is also in full support of the CARICOM goal of reducing food imports by 25 per cent by 2025, he said that achieving this in The Bahamas will require assistance.
“We are encouraging partnerships with Bahamians and other regional partners.
“Streamlining and refining” the country’s investment regime, he said, should serve to incentivise regional investments.
Food imports have been used to support the country’s thriving tourism sector. Since the majority of The Bahamas’ economic activity is linked to tourism, however, the country was particularly hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, the Deputy Prime Minister said, served as an ‘eye- opener’ for the country vis-à-vis its food security vulnerability. And he noted that the country is hoping that its participation at the agri-investment forum and expo will help it learn new agricultural technologies and ideas on boosting its agricultural sector.
“We were very carefully studying what occurred throughout the pandemic and the deficiencies that presented itself,” the Deputy Prime Minister stated.
Even as he touted partnerships and expanding production, like many other regional Heads of Government, he lamented the myriad of barriers that exist among CARICOM member states.
These barriers, he said, include the logistical challenges of transporting food within the region which sometimes makes it easier for The Bahamas to import food from Florida, instead of from the Caribbean.