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Stop using non-tariff barriers to hinder regional trade

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2015 | 11:59 PMChristopher Serju

A Guyanese government official has called for a re-examination of the policies that govern intraregional trade, with a view to setting an agenda for the Caribbean to achieve food nutrition and security.

George Jervis, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry in Guyana, cited the arbitrary use, as well as abuse, of non-tariff barriers as a major hindrance to the growth of intraregional trade in agricultural goods and services. The high cost of cargo transportation has, over the years, been posited as a major stumbling block to cutting the region's massing food-import bill.

Jervis thinks the time has come for these and other barriers to be reviewed with the goal of dismantling them in the interest of regional economic development.

He told The Gleaner on Sunday: "Those will have to be addressed, and you have to look at the reasons given for preventing intra-Caribbean trade while, at the same time, facilitating trade from extra-Caribbean sources. Let's look at what happens in poultry. Many countries (in the region) can supply others with poultry, but they put up sanitary issues, which are not given for countries which, in fact, have bird flu."

Jervis charged that there are countries from the developed world where bird flu has been detected but which are still exporting poultry to the region while, on the other hand, Caribbean states are asking their neighbours which have no record of the dreaded disease to meet certain requirements which then make it impractical to do business.

"That's one of the problems we having with CARICOM," the Guyanese official said. "CARICOM has to stop having all these lofty ideas of opposition and get down to ensuring that we are there for food security. We've got to make sure that we feed our people and that we don't always buy the cheapest food from extraregional sources."

Jervis, who attended the annual Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show from July 21 to August 2, was speaking with the Gleaner news team on the final day and used the occasion to address the impracticality of the region's costly dependence on imported rice.

"The three largest rice-producing countries are Vietnam, China and India, (but) those countries only export rice when they have surplus, hence their exports can be very cheap. In addition, they are significantly subsidised at home. We go for cheap rice because we say we don't have money. But the moment any of those countries have a flood or drought, they immediately stop exporting, and if we are not supported with good rice and a decent price, it means that we will go to market, may have cash in hand, but are unable to have (as in buy) a plate of rice."

In 2013, Guyana, the region's largest producer of rice, harvested a recording-breaking 529,384 tonnes, a 25.43 per cent increase over the 2012 yield. The 2012 harvest grew by five per cent over the 2011 output.

The ongoing annual increase in Guyana has been attributed to more land being brought under cultivation and improved farming techniques with better seed varieties, which, in turn, have led to improved yields per hectare. A major incentive for the latter has been that the price for rice in Guyana's has improved and remained stable in recent years.