Updated on Friday, August 19, 2022, 10:24 p.m. by Denis Chabrol
Leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up of 15 nations, are keen to see that the region’s private sector has so far failed to invest in a transport system to transport mainly agricultural goods, said President Irfaan Ali on Friday.
He warned at the opening of the 2nd Regional Forum on Agri-Investment in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, that if the CARICOM private sector did not rise to the challenge of resolving this major constraint to regional food production and consumption, this intergovernmental organization should find the solution outside the trading bloc.
“Come aboard and let’s partner together to solve this problem. If not, if not. If not, you are giving the leaders no choice but to go beyond the region,” said Dr Ali, head of agriculture in the quasi-cabinet of the CARICOM.
After reporting that over the past two months, Guyana, Saint Lucia and Jamaica have reported good progress in increasing food production, the Guyanese leader said the region’s private sector has “enough private sector” to take advantage of the opportunity and solve the transport problem.
CARICOM leaders have already informed the region’s private sector that they are ready to negotiate a package of incentives that would allow both parties to benefit from having such an infrastructure in place. “We are ready to sit down with such a consortium and come up with a menu of measures and incentives that allow you to operate in a very, very viable way to solve the transport and logistics problem,” he said. declared. The president told delegates, who included senior business executives and the head of the Caribbean Private Sector Organization (CPSO), that they had ceased operating solely in their own interests and expected that governments do most of the work. “We cannot sit in the private sector and expect government to create the environment all the time where government is an enabler. It’s a catalyst is a catalyst to open the opportunity. We need to stop working selfishly in the region at all levels and the private sector needs to come together, understand the scale of the opportunities, their thinking and pursue the opportunity and put the pressure back on the heads and the reason to say that we are ready,” he said.
Distributors across the Caribbean, he said, should not fear being displaced by reduced food imports from outside the Caribbean. Instead, he recommended that they seize the opportunity to become part of the regional agricultural system in agricultural processing, packaging and marketing. “It does not move the distributor. This adds an extra layer of business opportunities for distributors in the region. Because not only are you now distributing, but you are part of the value chain. Are we ready to do this, it is not the responsibility of heads of state,” he said.
While CARICOM’s chief spokesperson for agriculture seemed cautiously pleased with the progress made by a number of countries to remove non-tariff barriers and trade agricultural products freely, the president criticized the lack of harmonized interpretation regulations and standards. “The bureaucracy that exists has created serious deceptions in the system in this region. We have the wrong interpretation of the rules. There is no common ground against which we interpret certain regulations. Institutions exist on different standards and different rules and different regulations.
We need to organize the institutions so that every institution in the region operates under the same procedures, guidelines and standards so that our people have common access and a common understanding of the procedures, guidelines and standards. And this should not vary from country to country. It requires a change of mentality, it is to change our state of mind,” the president said.
President Ali said CARICOM was pushing the Republic Bank to approve a number of funding proposals from a US$100 million line of credit made available by this public bank in Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados and Guyana have already submitted seven proposals and others are being developed by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
He said Guyana and CARICOM would set up a monitoring and implementation unit and take advantage of the $29 million that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has offered the region for its food security plan.
Guyana and the United States will co-chair a committee on food security, while Trinidad and Tobago and the United States will co-chair another on energy security.
CPSO Chairman Mr Warner said the food import bill of more than $4 billion does not include the economic activity needed to produce that food. He estimated that CARICOM could produce $1.2 billion or 25 percent of the food bill in cereals (valued at $324 million), meat products ($319.2 million), vegetables , fruits and nuts ($188.3 million), milk and cream. (US$127.7 million), beverages (US$126.3 million) and fish and shellfish products (US$86.2 million). “$1.2 billion in import substitution is on a large scale,” he said, citing the need to tap into the resources needed for large and small producers.
He discouraged member states from growing produce that could not be easily marketed because they did not have the specific size, quality or packaging or investing in large maize mills if not there would be no transport infrastructure or search for pork or poultry if there were trade barriers. “It’s really critical that we take a full value chain perspective and perspective when we approach this issue,” he said.
Mr. Warner said aspects of the CARICOM agricultural campaign should consider infrastructure needs to be funded by the state or private sector, technologies required, access to capital and incentives, network of necessary transportation, port storage and brokerage and distribution systems, sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, and harmonization of common external tariffs on extra-regional products. He noted that duties and taxes on chicken imports are different with two groups of countries protecting consumers and producers, resulting in the import of US$150 million or 120,000 tonnes of this meat from the outside of CARICOM. He said CARICOM produces 285,000 tonnes of chicken but there is a need for a single market regime for poultry, possibly with autonomous tariff quotas.