“We import far more than we produce. Non-tariff barriers are not an issue. I think one of the issues is that we need more access to our own markets,” Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), James Paul told Demerara Waves Online News when asked whether non-tariff barriers are hindering regional trade in agricultural produce.
Non-tariff barriers can include the deliberate misapplication of rules about plant and animal health diseases to prevent a country’s products from entering another one.
Paul, who is a parliamentarian for the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP), said Guyana and Barbados needed access to its domestic market because that country still imports a huge amount of food. “The issue is not non-tariff barriers. I think that is a red herring along the trail,” he said.
The BAS boss called on businesses across the Caribbean to do more to support domestic food producers rather than find excuses to disguise the fact that local business communities in each Caribbean country need to support regional agricultural production.
He believed that Caribbean governments were doing enough to push local agricultural production but Caribbean businesses and buyers remained foreign-minded. “I think governments in the region are doing as much as they could but the problem is that our buyers and sellers of products from the region are oriented to buying from outside,” he said.
He chided businesses in the region for opting for the easy way inherited from colonial times rather than investing in triggering and sustaining demand for local fruits, vegetables and other food products. “They are opting for the easy way they have learnt from colonial times of importing but that is not the answer; we will run out of foreign exchange,” he said.
In the case of Barbados, he said his country could not continue to borrow money to give big businesses to import food, but instead preferred to take loans to develop the economy.
Asked whether Caribbean governments were talking with the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce to promote more consumption of locally produce agri-foods, he lashed out at that umbrella business organisation that has been recently granted permission to participate in certain Caricom for a. “Those business interests like Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce are stuck in their ways. If they are not willing to consider new ways of earning money which include supporting our local agricultural sectors, the discussion fails and unfortunately business people,” he said.
Paul said large business chains such as Massy need to recognise that they have a responsibility to the countries’ economies.
Business models, he contended, should include provisions for local farmers , develop the economy, generate jobs and save foreign exchange. “The foreign exchange will run out and when it runs out they will run and what will we do next,” he said.
Asked whether the time had come for Caribbean governments to restrict or ban certain items, he said ultimately it is the consumer who decides what he or she would eat.