By Vishani Ragobeer
Unless Caribbean private sector players deepen partnerships to satisfy the food demands of the region, Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali has warned that regional leaders will be forced to seek foreign assistance, essentially giving away massive business opportunities.
“We like to gyaff a lot in this region (but) if we are to really move things forward, it will take a collective approach and that is what we are pushing,” President Ali said at the opening ceremony of the agri-investment forum in Trinidad and Tobago on Friday.
Already, President Ali posited that Caribbean leaders have the political will to advance regional food security efforts. Already, much progress has been made in removing intra-regional trade barriers and growing more food in individual countries.
What remains, he reasoned, is for the regional private sector to capitalise on those opportunities to grow and transport more food.
In fact, he opined that there is enough “firepower” in the region for private sector players to form a consortium that will solve the region’s transportation woes.
But Dr. Ali lamented that private sector players have a tendency of waiting on governments to hand them opportunities instead of aggressively pursuing those themselves. He also said that there is some hesitation to partner with each other.
Together, those challenges constrain the ambitious agenda of pushing food security in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
“The private sector needs to come together and understand the scale of opportunity, scale up and go after the opportunities.
“If not, then you give the Heads [of Government] no other choice than to go extra-regionally,” the Guyanese Head of State said.
At the opening ceremony, Chairman of the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation (CPSO), Gervase Warner, attempted to convince private sector colleagues of the opportunities that are indeed presenting themselves now.
According to him, a market of about US$1.2 billion is available for greater food production and trade that can be capitalised on by the regional private sector.
“We have a big opportunity and we have a lot of commitment to go after it,” he said.
Later, however, he added, “We have real issues where products from extra-regional sources enjoy more favourable duties and taxes and phytosanitary clearance than products from within CARICOM.”
As such, he underscored that the private sector and governments need to work much closer.
Like President Ali, Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi and Trinidadian Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley also called on the private sector to do much more.
And they too underscored that the regional leaders are very much committed to advancing the food plan and making it easier for the private sector to invest and capitalise on abundant opportunities.
Caribbean countries recognise that skyrocketing food prices and food shortages are plaguing the people of the region. As such, an ambitious Guyana-led food security plan has received widespread support.
Through this plan, countries are seeking to grow more food and increase intra-regional trade, thereby slashing the more than US$4 billion spent annually to import food.
The region’s leaders are, however, calling on the Caribbean’s private sector to invest in greater production, transportation and trade.
And at the same opening ceremony of the forum, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley reminded Caribbean people that there is another factor to consider; that is, Caribbean people must be willing to eat more of what is grown in the region