By Fareeza Haniff in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
As the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) forges ahead to reduce its food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025, the new Chairman of the regional bloc, Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit says the issues of free movement, non-tariff barriers to trade, reliable and affordable transportation are all crucial to helping the region achieve its goal.
The region’s food import bill is more than US$6 billion annually. In Guyana, which is known for its agricultural prowess, about 40 per cent of the food consumed is imported.
Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, who is the Lead Head of Government for agriculture in CARICOM has already presented a new comprehensive strategy to tackle this expensive food import bill and help guarantee the region’s food security.
And on Tuesday, he is expected to brief CARICOM leaders in Port of Spain at the 45th meeting of Heads of Government on the implementation of this strategy.
In this regard, the new CARICOM Chairman called for greater political will to address the issue of free trade.
“The reality is that in any free trade arrangement within an integration movement, there will be those who benefit more than others. We recognise this in our Revised Treaty. It is therefore incumbent upon us all, to strive to increase the ability of the less endowed to participate more fully in trading arrangements.
“We must all seek to make our arrangements more equitable and use the provisions of the Treaty in a more positive manner. It is true, that there are dispute mechanism procedures but we are all in this together for the benefit of the entire CARICOM.”
Guyana, for several years, has found it difficult to export its honey into the Caribbean because of restrictions in Trinidad and Tobago. President Ali, however, believes that the issue will soon be addressed by the Twin Island Republic.
Trinidad and Tobago’s honey, bees and bee products are guided by the island’s age-old Food and Drug Act of 1960 and Beekeeping and Bee Products Act of 1935.
And as per this Act, only honey originating from the Windward and Leeward Islands can be transhipped there. The country initially restricted the importation of honey from Grenada and other Caribbean countries over concerns of a potentially disastrous disease of honeybees, the American Foulbrood disease.
Meanwhile, Skerrit vowed to address the issue of regional travel, acknowledging the challenges of making air and sea transportation more efficient and affordable.
“We need now to actively pursue, creative, and affordable partnerships to deliver on this crucial element of integration in the interest of our people. The movement of people and goods are the backbone of a successful integration arrangement.
“We have done all the studies, and the statistics point us to the favourable outcome of an effective transportation system.
“I accept that this is a challenge that requires investments which may not see an immediate return. It requires confidence, that the provision of such a service will boost commercial opportunities and encourage more intra-regional travel.”
According to the new Chairman, “our drive to reduce our food import bill by 25 percent by 2025 depends in large measure on intra-regional transportation. The early indications are that our agriculture sector is rising to the challenge. We need our entrepreneurs, therefore, to look favourably upon the opportunities available in the transportation sector and be there for the long haul.”