Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
ST JOHN'S, Antigua: REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS are being accused of failing the Caribbean people through the legislation they write and ratify.
Hilton Baptiste, minister of agriculture, land, housing & environment in Antigua, made this accusation while addressing the opening session of the Caribbean Science-Media Sensitisation Workshop hosted by the Caribbean Agricultural Research Development Institute last Friday.
Baptise charged that "some governments in the past have made some mistakes but the biggest mistake they made was to go to the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and agree they (WTO) can dump anything in this region as they like, when they like and how they like.
"It means that if we can produce all the food for the countries and the region, we still can't stop their imports because it is cheaper."
we can feed ourselves
According to Baptiste, this wholesale endorsement of the WTO regulations was done largely out of ignorance.
"They sign on to it not realising that if we work hard in agriculture, we can feed ourselves and produce all the food that we need."
He argued that signing on to the WTO was a mistake for which the entire region continues to pay the hefty price of US$4 billion in food import bill.
Last year, Jamaica recorded a US$100-million increase in its food import bill over 2010.
For the first three months of 2012, the country spent more than US$300 million on importing food and, if the trend continues, will spend more than US$1.2 billion importing food for the year.
This is not likely to change any time soon unless regional governments become more proactive, taking actions which might not necessarily prove popular, according to the Antiguan minister.
Baptise pointed to the straightjacket in which regional governments now find themselves as a result of the WTO.
"If we grow all the chicken in the Caribbean, they say we still can't stop them (imports) unless it is on grounds of phytosanitary regulations.
"We can restrict but still can't ban and those conglomerates which make millions from exporting to us will never invest in ships and carriers to move our goods in the regions.
"So you find if Antigua have 10,000lb of onion sitting on the shelves and it is too much for markets that can be shipped to Guyana, it cost too much money, so we leave it here to rot."
The Antiguan minister pointed to the Jagdeo Initiative - a policy enunciated by former Guyanese Prime Minister Bharrat Jagdeo, which spoke to defined roles for different countries in the region.
Hailed as the 'new agriculture vision', it spoke to moving agriculture well beyond food production by exploring the numerous opportunities in agro-businesses which would create more employment, increase export earnings and the income of all stakeholders, especially farmers.
The Jagdeo Initiative, if successfully implemented would, over time, give Caribbean member states an unprecedented level of economic independence.
Baptiste offered this explanation for its failure to get off the ground.