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Local first

The Barbados Government must do more to protect local agriculture producers, says CEO of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul.

In a telephone interview with Barbados TODAY this evening, Paul said that it was recently discovered that a farmer who had supplied a top local hotel with turkeys for more than five years was told that, with immediate effect, he would not be needed to supply the turkeys any more since that hotel was now sourcing theirs from overseas.

Paul said the BAS was very “disturbed” over matters like these, and while he said others may say “it is only turkeys at this time” there was a cause for concern. After attending a meeting recently in Jamaica, he explained, it was learnt that other Caribbean countries were already showing signs of penetration.

Where importers were creatively identifying tariff lines where they could import similar or close products but then be charged the lower rates of duty. He added that there was also another “disturbing trend” where the same importers were able to get around the protection that being afforded to locally produced agricultural goods.

“What we are looking for is, certainly if it comes to the fact that we have to look at additional levels of protection, we think that local producers have a legitimate right to expect the individual governments to afford them that level of protection. We think that while, very often, when we talk about protection there are persons who would shout loud and talk about the WTO, clearly the WTO agreement in any case and even our CSM is mostly in spirit and not in practice.

“To that extent, I think that this country deserves the right to protect its local producers and preserve jobs and foreign exchange for its citizens. I don’t see the need for us to shout WTO obligations when other countries are clearly not doing the same thing. We should expect our Government to protect our local producers and to do everything possible. At the end of the day we employ people also and we earn foreign exchange,” he said.

“If that trends continues and with these types of developments occurring within the market, the Barbados Agricultural Society does have cause to be worried because it demonstrates a measure of unwillingness, not only on the part of hoteliers themselves, but on the part of distributors of agricultural produce in this country to work with the local agriculture sector to ensure that local agriculture producers have access to markets.

“Instead, what we have is a situation where they are facilitating the import of foreign agriculture produce, which in many cases are subsidised, to compete with locally produced agricultural goods,” Paul added.

“This, we find, is unfortunate and we would like to signal our concern that this cannibalistic behaviour that seems now to be prevailing our local business climate is proceeding at the rate it is going. We are asking that people cooperate more in terms of facilitating access of local agricultural process to our local markets.”

Paul said he suspected other producers, including those in the poultry industry, were also being disadvantaged as a result. Moreover, he said, the BAS would join with the Caribbean Poultry Association to conceive a regional strategy where they would approach ministers of agriculture to try to see if action could be taken to counter the problem. (KC)

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