–Prime Ministers Briceño, Skerrit say
AS the inaugural Agri-Invest Forum and Expo opened on Thursday, at the National Cultural Centre, several regional leaders outlined that it is the right time for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to focus on the removal of trade barriers and more investments in the agriculture sector.
Prime Minister of Belize and Chairman of CARICOM, John Antonio Briceno, in his remarks, said that while it is time to invest in the sector it is also the right time to establish strategic partnerships that could lead to the region reaching its “25 by 2025” goal, which entails reducing the regional food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
The Prime Minster said that it is also an opportune time to discuss agriculture and food security in the region, as CARICOM continues to be affected by a number of global events that have caused negative effects on the region as a whole.
Some of those events, he said, include the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions in the global supply chains and even climate change.
Briceño related that it is the first time that CARICOM is organising an Agri-Investment Forum and Expo, so it is a welcomed initiative across the region.
The theme, “Investing in vision 25 by 2025,” he said, is more than just a catchy slogan, it is a plan which will guide the region in its efforts to reduce its dependency on importation by 25 per cent over the next three and a half years.
“As heads, we are convinced that President Ali’s plans for agricultural development in the region are realistic, more so, they are imperative if we are to achieve food security for our CARICOM region and also 25 per cent reduction in our regions food import bill by 2025,” Prime Minister Briceño said.
He went on to say that the region has potential to produce most of the food that is imported and in doing so, economic resilience and development would be attained.
In addition to this, the Prime Minister told stakeholders that he is convinced that it is the right time within the Caribbean region to invest in the “agro-productive sector” and also the right time to establish strategic partnerships and to capitalise on the tremendous opportunities for growth.
Briceño related that there is a great opportunity for increased investment in agricultural production and agro-processing and, as such, it is imperative that action is taken to maximise these benefits in spite of the current global challenges.
He said it is also time to remove the technical trade barriers that most Caribbean countries impose on each other.
Briceño’s sentiments were echoed by Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, who said that CARICOM has the capacity and the ability to supply member states within the region with a lot of what is needed for consumption.
To this end, Skerrit said that “fictitious impositions” which member states place on each other as it relates to trade and more, must be removed.
Skerrit said: “We need to work together, we need to allow our produce to come in a freely unfettered manner and allow the ordinary folks within the Caribbean to feel for the first time, the true benefits of the integration.”
He went on to register Dominica’s support for the initiative and noted that the opportunity should not be missed, as it started years back with the “Jagdeo [Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo] initiative.”
Prime Minister Skerrit said that he is concerned about the future of food security if the recommendations in the 25 by 2025 initiative are not concretised.
He further added that if all stakeholders in the Caribbean region were to make a decision to support Caribbean produce, the problem within the Caribbean will be solved.
He said this is why the Government of Dominica has a firm policy of supporting Caribbean goods first and foremost.
Skerrit related that Caribbean goods should be recognised on supermarket shelves and further regulations should be passed to ensure that CARICOM produce and products are placed on shelves.
The Dominican Prime Minister highlighted that the initiative is not only about economics, but it is also about the wellbeing and welfare of every citizen in the Caribbean region.
Further, Skerrit said: “We look forward to working with you President Ali, to realising this tremendous effort that you’ve put in into one of the most important sectors in our Caribbean, agriculture and food production, and so let us all join forces to make this happen.”