Unscrupulous persons putting agri exports at risk
Jamaica's export of agricultural produce is being exposed to serious risk of being banned from some markets because of the unscrupulous actions of some certified exporters who, according to the country's acting chief plant quarantine officer, are shortchanging the established food safety compliance system.
"What we are finding is that there are some exporters who are short-tracking the load. They get some dasheen or some yam along the roadside and they want to make up a shipment on their way to exporting, so they get some empty boxes and they brush them off and package them right there on the roadside," Fitzroy White told a recent exporters' forum at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston.
"Or they get some guinep under a tree on their way to the airport and it ends up in the shipment. Same thing will happen for pepper too. They might get some boxes and they may go into the pepper field and package them right there."
He continued: "So we are discouraging that. We want everybody to end up using certified packaging facilities and desist from going the short route because that will cause the food-borne pathogens to be in the shipment and pests as well. This leads to interceptions when it gets to New York or Miami or Gatwick, and what's going to happen is that eventually, the product or the exporter might face a ban. And when that happens, it is not just the exporter, but Jamaica who is affected, and so this particular issue is a very vexing one because if something gets banned, it will take us many, many months of hard work to get it back on the list."
White's comments were directed at participants from a number of stakeholder groups in the agricultural sector, including fresh produce exporters, JAMPRO, Customs, airlines, and the Jamaica Exporters' Association (JEA), which participated in the forum under the theme 'Plant Quarantine: Facilitating Trade ... Securing Jamaica's Agriculture'.
"I couldn't say how widespread it is, but we do know that it happens," While admitted when pressed for specifics about the level of non-compliance. "But it happens particularly with breadfruit, and we are only catching it because of the pests on it. But from the food safety issue standpoint, now that's another serious issue that we will never catch at the point of inspection.
"If you are talking about food safety - like things that will carry food-borne pathogens - that we are not going to catch because our inspection doesn't do that that's a laboratory function, but our function is a visible inspection."
Last year, the Plant Quarantine Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries inspected and certified more than US$62 million worth of agricultural produce for export.
However, while there are more than 600 exporters certified by JAMPRO, only 250 are members of the JEA, which supports efforts by the agriculture ministry to clean up the export-clearance system.
"We work very closely together and are trying to rid the industry, or the sector or all the charlatans who, for a little money, are willing to put the whole of Jamaica's exports at risk," Claude Fletcher, general manager of the JEA, told The Gleaner.
"We are aware of some of the issues and the people who are giving the problems are not our members. Our members tend to be much more organised. They are very active and very supportive because they understand that their businesses are at risk. So that's why everything he (White) said, we support," he declared.
In addition to the traditional commodities such as cocoa and sugar, since the 1980s, Jamaica has also entered the export market with non-traditional produce such as papaya, cut flowers, and winter vegetables, among other items, for which demand continues to outstrip supply.