— to address issues impeding the smooth intra-regional movement of food commodities
NOTING that the region is at a most critical time of its history and that a crisis like no other is before it, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley made a clarion call for a change in mindset among CARICOM nations to address issues impeding the smooth intra-regional movement of food commodities.
Prime Minister Mottley made the remarks while delivering a presentation on “Pursuing CSME and removing barriers to enhance agri trade in the region” on Thursday at the National Cultural Centre, during the opening ceremony of the Agri Investment Forum and Expo.
“We have a responsibility now to change mindsets and to change policies. Our sanitary regime must be modernised to ensure safe food can enter, circulate and exit the single economic space efficiently,” Mottley said.
“If we don’t make the steps now to remove the barriers, God knows how we can create the productive base that President [Irfaan] Ali has so masterfully drafted for us in terms of the plans to expand productivity and production.”
The three-day Agri Forum, which will run from May 19 – 21, at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), is a component of “25 by 2025” plan (reducing regional imports by 25 per cent by 2025) that seeks to facilitate the matching of bankable projects with prospective investors.
Reducing the extra regional importation of food commodities has taken centre stage over the past few years in light of several consecutive global crises, which has been affecting the availability of several key food commodities. These include the COVID-19 pandemic, which started at the beginning of 2020 and the Russia/Ukraine war which started at the beginning of 2022. There has also been a supply chain crisis created by these situations.
Small and developing nations, particularly those in the Caribbean region, have been disproportionately affected by the situation.
PM Mottley, during her presentation, highlighted several examples of countries which have placed restrictions on their export of key food commodities such as wheat, oil and meats and noted that with more restrictions expected, CARICOM is all the more hard pressed to become an increased producer.
“My friends, what more do we need? It is expected that there will be more restrictions as we go on, as governments safeguard their food supplies in the face of soaring inflation,” PM Mottley noted.
However, she pointed out, restrictions facing CARICOM are nothing new. Mottley alluded that sadly the small nations have not been garnering sufficient attention even as a collective to properly deal with the situation on the global scene, all the more why intra-regional solutions are needed.
“We had the export restrictions on PPE and ventilators at the beginning [of the pandemic] and we understood then in a very real way that we are simply not large enough to be seen and not loud enough to be dealt with. Neither individually nor regrettably collectively.”
MAY BE TOO MODEST
Minister Mottley alluded that 25 per cent by 2025 may even be too modest a target and it may very well have to be revised upwards given projections.
“It may very well have to be 50 by 2025,” Mottley commented, adding that “This crisis deepens like no other and we don’t have the luxury to ignore it.”
“We have a responsibility to take preemptive action in this region to protect our people – that is why all of us meet in Georgetown today against this backdrop. We need now to fully accelerate our advocacy for the removal of trade barriers that so strangle us,” said the Barbados Prime Minister, pointing out that it is up to the heads of government in CARICOM to “bring this puzzle together”.
“We need to ensure that we are able to have proper insurance for our farmers. We need to make sure that we can update and to put in place the technical support in the fields. We need to build our research capabilities. We need to adopt a suitable technology for young people to enhance productivity and competitiveness. We need to have storage and agro-processing. The goods must reach the consumer in a way that is safe and affordable. It is all up to us to work with retailers, distributors and transport providers to bring this puzzle together,” said Mottley.