Worry for policy makers as some importers, distributors ‘threatened’ by regional food plan

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Guyana is leading the well-supported plan of growing more food and slashing costly imports within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) but some Caribbean importers and distributors are threatened by this, according to President Dr. Irfaan Ali.

The Guyanese Head of State has the lead responsibility for food security in the CARICOM Quasi-cabinet. And these Guyana-led efforts have received unanimous support from Caribbean leaders.

President Ali, speaking at a joint press conference with Trinidadian Prime Minister Keith Rowley on Thursday, underscored the importance of this food plan.

But he hinted at trouble brewing elsewhere.

“There (are) a lot of distributors, large distributors in the region, who feel threatened because of what we are pursuing,” President Ali told members of the Trinidadian press corps.

He immediately countered those concerns by stating that the push to grow more food regionally and reduce imports will not reduce the business of importers and distributors. In fact, he contended that the opportunity exists for them to expand their businesses with changes to their business model.

“This is a major opportunity to reverse engineer what they are doing.

“(They can) benefit through production and distribution and instead of bringing things from the United States and Miami, we can now push things up,” President Ali posited.

Guyanese President Dr. Irfaan Ali and Trinidadian Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley engaged each other at the Diplomatic Centre in Port of Spain on Thursday (Photo: Office of the President/ August 18, 2022)

Advancing this food plan is among the reasons for Dr. Ali’s ongoing State Visit to Trinidad and Tobago (T&T).

The two countries are striving to remove real and artificial barriers that constrain food. In doing so, both countries expect to benefit from an assured supply of much-needed food, at lower prices.

Why this is important, President Ali explained, is because ongoing food shortages and surging food prices are badly affecting people of the region. This is a result of the large number of imported products.

“Make no mistake, we don’t have the luxury of time to advance food security.

“It is not only important from a price perspective, you can have the money but you can’t have the food,” President Ali said.

Prime Minister Rowley agreed with these assertions.

According to the Trinidadian leader, Caribbean countries are overly dependent on importing food- a phenomenon that leaves the region vulnerable to disruptive events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine/ Russia crisis.

And the Prime Minister strongly stated that intra-regional trade barriers, specifically those “artificial” non-tariff barriers, should be removed with much alacrity.

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