DDL, gov’t demand common trade rules after Trinidad rejects milk exports

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 May 2024, 22:01 by Writer

DDL Chairman, Komal Samaroo (second from right) and other company officials briefing the media.

In the wake of Trinidad and Tobago ‘s refusal to allow entry of milk and flavoured water produced by a leading Guyanese manufacturer, Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL), the company on Tuesday accused that sister Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member state of imposing trade barriers.

DDL Chairman, Komal Samaroo complained bitterly about Trinidad and Tobago’s resort to enforce one of its animal health laws to return the consignment of milk valued US$100,000 and detention of the flavoured water valued US$30,000 to US$40,000 until additional checks are done. He added that it was the first time that his company was exporting milk to that twin-island nation.

“We believe this matter requires CARICOM attention. You cannot be promoting trade on an uneven playing field where you have ready access but nobody have access to your market. That cannot work,” he said. He stressed that the rules of the Common Market must be “even and level” to ensure that each country has a “fair chance” which currently does not exist.

Concerning the flavoured water, DDL officials said Trinidad and Tobago authorities asked for a “detailed chemical analysis” and a certificate of analysis,

He said that at a meeting held on May 13, 2024 between DDL representatives and Trinidad and Tobago government officials, “we were advised of extremely onerous and stringent process for the importation of animals and animal-based products” based on provisions of that country’s Animal Disease and Importation Act 2020. “DDL finds these requirements contrary to the spirit of intra-regional trade especially since we are reliably informed that Guyana has no such reciprocal requirement for the importation of similar products from Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

CARICOM Chairman, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali said he has since asked Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd to ask their Trinidad and Tobago counterparts for explanations. “We are now working in the region on dismantling trade barriers and dealing with these exact situations where we are trying to integrate trade, expand our regional economy and create more opportunities for regional business and this is a prime example of scenarios that do not help the 25 by 2025 plan (25 percent reduction in food imports),” he said. The President said often bureaucrats misinterpret the rules largely due to their “own agenda.” The President said “we are very concerned about this” occurrence against DDL, a well-established large Guyanese company that complies with international standards. “We are very concerned about this,” he said. “This is definitely not in the interest of regional integration.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation defended DDL, saying that the consignments of milk and flavoured water complied with regional trade rules. “The refusal of entry to the dairy products wholly produced in Guyana by CARICOM member states is an affront to the spirit of Caribbean integration agenda and must not be accepted. It is appreciated that regional products must satisfy the necessary sanitary and phytosanitary rules, the technical regulations as well as any product specific rules of origin required to qualify the products for regional preferential treatment. Available information indicates that the dairy products from Guyana destined into Trinidad and Tobago were in full compliance with these requirements,” the ministry said. The Guyana Livestock Development Agency, according to government, remains in close contact with its counterparts in Trinidad and Tobago, the exporter and the importer to resolve this matter within the shortest possible time.

Four 20-foot containers containing three products based on a market evaluation of that market were, according to Mr Samaroo, shipped to Trinidad earlier this month but “regrettably, the two containers of packaged milk product were denied entry and returned to Guyana while the bottled water products have been restricted for sale pending the completion of an unconventional exhaustive of these bottled water products.” The company said it relied on an “established importing” partner in Trinidad and Tobago who was reliable, knowledgeable, knows the regulations and assessed market demand.

Mr Samaroo said DDL had been spending billions of dollars in diversifying away from its rums to food production such as juices and milk “in response to the regional strategy enunciated by CARICOM governments on regional food security so DDL has taken a strategic position of positioning itself to be a significant player in that space.”

Local farmers producing fruits for DDL’s juice production are being financed through the Institute of Private Enterprise Development, and the company has invested in a “very sophisticated dairy operation”, he said.

The well-respected Guyanese business executive said the Guyana government had been asked to take note of those developments. DDL also plans to complain to the Private Sector Commission, Caribbean Private Sector Organisation, and the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development. He hinted that if unresolved, the matter could be sent to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). “We will take it as far as is necessary to have this matter resolved,” he said.

Mr Chand said DDL’s products were in “total compliance” with the CARICOM Rules of Origin. He said it was clear that the letter and spirit of intra-regional trade was being flouted by a CARICOM member state, while Guyana did not have similar trade barriers. “I think it’s a matter of public interest that Guyana is importing products from other CARICOM countries without them having to go through the onerous route that we are required to go through in this particular market and I believe that if we are talking about food security and CARICOM trade and there is a regulatory framework in a particular market that restricts that trade, it is an issue for CARICOM,” he said.

Asked whether Trinidad and Tobago did not have a right to protect its people’s health by ensuring quality products enter that country, Mr Samaroo queried whether the Guyana government did not have a similar responsibility to Guyanese even as he insisted on common rules. “If you are going to accept, as a norm, different sets of rules and different standards, then we can’t have free trade. It has to be on a common basis,” he said.