Trinidad’s honey law centre of bitter quarrel in CARICOM- Guyanese private sector

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 June 2023, 15:45 by Denis Chabrol

GMSA Adviser Ramesh Dookhoo confronting Chantal Ononaiwu, Trade Policy and Legal Specialist at CARICOM’s Directorate of Single Market and External Trade on Trinidad and Tobago’s refusal to allow the transshipment of honey.

A section of Guyana’s private sector on Saturday bluntly told a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) expert that there are no risks to humans, plants and animals if Trinidad and Tobago stops blocking the transshipment of honey to other regional and international markets.

Vice Chairman of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA), Rafeek Khan and GMSA Adviser Ramesh Dookhoo confronted Chantal Ononaiwu, Trade Policy and Legal Specialist at CARICOM’s Directorate of Single Market and External Trade with the need for Trinidad and Tobago to remove the prohibition of transportation of honey from the 88-year old Beekeeping and Bee Products Act.

At a breakfast seminar titled “The Original Jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice and the Private Sector”, Mr Khan questioned why such a law was in place that blocks Guyana from sending its honey to Barbados via Trinidad. “It doesn’t go in-country but this has been a  longstanding discussion and debate,” he said.

Asked why don’t Guyanese exporters ship their consignments of honey directly to destinations in the Caribbean and elsewhere, honey producer Lance Hinds told Demerara Waves Online News that most of the ships have to pass through Port of Spain to uplift cargo. With the issue remaining unresolved under both the United National Congress and People’s National Movement -led administrations, he believed that big businesses in Trinidad and Tobago with major interests in honey were convincing government not to change the law that prohibits transshipment of honey.

In response, Ms Ononaiwu admitted that honey has been a “longstanding issue on the agenda” of CARICOM’s ministerial Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) that would remain there until it’s resolved. “It’s not a blind eye being turned to it but it’s a complex issue and it’s resolution requires certain steps be taken,” she said.

Mr Dookhoo did not hide his dissatisfaction with the CARICOM official’s response, telling her that “I don’t think you have treated fairly with the h0ney issue” which dates back to 2003. “It’s not a complex issue. As a matter of fact, the honey issue is about the removal of an illegal law from the books of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said,

They clashed after the CARICOM official said broadly, without reference to specific countries, the honey issue was complex because it intersects with sanitary and phytosanitary considerations. “That’s an important consideration which has been at play,” Ms Ononaiwu said, adding that the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) has been involved to ensure there is a balance between the movement of goods and human, animal, plant life and health.

Mr Dookhoo later told Demerara Waves Online News that Guyana’s growing honey sector, which is receiving government assistance, and other Caribbean honey producers were being affected by Trinidad and Tobago’s Beekeeping and Bee Products Act that blocks the presence of honey in that twin-island nation’s waters within three miles from the coastline. He flayed COTED for doing nothing and expressed disgust that the CARICOM official wanted the GMSA to be happy that the issue was still on the agenda. “The CSME is failing and CARICOM has no enforcement powers,” he added.

La Parkan had been fined an estimated US$7,000 for having honey aboard a ship in Trinidad and Tobago waters several years ago.

On the contrary, he said Barbados does not block honey from other countries. “That is the nature of Trinidad and Tobago business. They want to come into your country but they do not want you to go into theirs,” said Mr Dookhoo, a former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC).

Mr Hinds believed that Trinidad & Tobago’s position was “a clear violation of the fair trading principles” of CARICOM’s Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. “Added to this, the deafening silence that can be, or maybe should be, viewed as an insult,” he said. Mr Hinds said despite the likely high cost of taking the matter to the CCJ, eventually that would have to be done.

Mr Hinds calculates that honey has the potential to be a significant revenue earner in the coming years. The global honey market was $USD 7.84 billion in 2020 and is forecast to grow from $8.17 billion in 2022 to $11.88 billion in 2028.

An examination of the trade data of Guyana’s Latin American neighbours, particularly Argentina and Brazil, provides significant food for thought. Brazil exports 46,000 tonnes annually, while Argentina exports 76,000 tonnes. Earnings are $US70m and $US 175m respectively. “This is certainly not in the class of oil and gas but significant, nonetheless,” he added.

In the region Jamaican Honey production is set to reach 770 tonnes by 2026 with 40,000 hives in production. Trinidad and Tobago produces about 35 tonnes annually. Both countries appear to be currently concentrating on their domestic markets.

“It stifles growth because if anybody wants to invest significantly, it would be to export and sell locally but if you can’t sort out the Trinidad matter, it is not an enabler a the end of the day because an investor will say if it can’t pass out, what’s the point,” Mr Hinds said on Saturday.