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Agri exporters missing out on US market

Published:Wednesday | June 3, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju

Local exporters are missing out on the lucrative United States market in various fruits, crops, herbs, tubers, and cut flowers for which Jamaica enjoys pre-clearance approval. A 52-item list of the produce includes breadfruit, callaloo, pineapple, strawberries, cho-cho, egg plant, Jackfruit, cassava, and even guinep, but the country has not been able to take advantage of the provisions to facilitate speedy export of these and other non-traditional commodities. The list originates out of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"We are currently only supplying less than a quarter of the designated list of items," Agriculture Minister Derrick Kellier disclosed yesterday at an Exporters' Forum at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston.

He noted that the situation was made worse by a continuing decline in the export of the main traditional export crops such as sugar, banana, cocoa, and coffee, which continued into the first quarter of the calendar year.

"As recently as the January to March 2015 quarter, we experienced a decline in agricultural exports because of the impact of the delayed start-up of sugar exports. So even though domestic crop production bounced back to a positive growth of 3.4 per cent, there was a decline of some 11.6 per cent in the traditional export sector," the minister explained.

"Overall, and bearing in mind the impact of last year's record-breaking drought, there was a reduction of 5.6 per cent in domestic crop production for 2014. On the other hand, there was a 25 per cent decline in traditional crops export, which was down from US$22.1 million in 2013 to US$17 million in 2014 largely because of reduced earnings from coffee, citrus, and pimento," he continued.

Maydene Campbell, trust fund manager with the USDA, told The Gleaner that there really was nothing preventing local businesses from gaining greater access to the lucrative American market.

"There is no barrier. As a matter of fact, the USDA/ APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Services) pre-clearance list that specifies the enterable crops into the United States is a simple procedure of certification after inspection and of treatment and then, of course, shipping them on to the US market," Campbell. "So there is a huge US dollar revenue pool that can be tapped into with the greater utilisation of this list, so there are no barriers whatsoever."

Campbell, who is also regional administrator for USAID, noted that there was scope for adding even more items to the USDA/APHIS list.

She told The Gleaner: "All that needs to happen is a simple process of pest-risk assessment to be done within the island to try and identify possible pests that would be injurious to the US homeland and then, of course, a list of that is submitted. The whole documentation is submitted to the US Department of Agriculture, it is reviewed, and the necessary processes are completed, and then once it is approved, (it) becomes one more item that is added on to the pre-clearance list."