Significant progress being made in slashing Caricom food import bill – Pres Ali

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President Dr Irfaan Ali addressing the Stakeholders Forum on day two of the Forty-Third Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Paramaribo, Suriname.

President Dr Irfaan Ali, who is in Suriname for the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Heads of Government meeting, has reported that significant progress is being made towards eradicating trade barriers and slashing of the regional food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.

The 43rd Meeting of the Caricom Heads of Government is being held in Paramaribo, Suriname, from July 3 to July 5. During a sit-down on Tuesday with the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), President Ali was asked about what progress has been made towards the 25 by 2025 target. This is a target that has particularly been pushed by Guyana.

“We have made tremendous progress, in terms of achieving a 25 by 2025 target. This is not only a political commitment. This is a commitment that includes the farmers, the private sector, young people, women,” the President said.

“So, what we have done is develop an overarching strategy that encompasses all the players and stakeholders in the Region and individual countries themselves. We’ve outlined a strategy that is measurable and has very specific targets. In that strategy itself, it outlines the specific actions required by each state in achieving a 25 by 2025 plan.”

The President noted that Caribbean countries have been showing tremendous commitment, especially on the financing side. He explained that since Guyana held its agri-investment forum in May, Barbados held one and another is planned this month, in Trinidad.
“Since the agri-investment forum, we have had an agri expo in Barbados. We have a continuation of that forum, on the 19th to the 21st, in Trinidad and Tobago. And what we are seeing is a tremendous commitment from the financing side in advancing the food security plan.”

According to President Ali, an integral part of this plan is transportation and logistics. He noted that there has been great movement at the Heads of Government meeting, towards surmounting this challenge.

“At this meeting we’re seeing great movement, in not only the infrastructure and the architecture to bring about the transportation plan and to action it, but also a commitment in advancing the work to get the financing and get this operational, as quickly as possible.”
“The third issue is barriers, within the Region itself. And there is a clear commitment, from all the leaders, that the time for discussing and talking about these barriers is over. And we’re now working on a strategic, timebound approach on the removal of these barriers,” President Ali noted.

The President Ali-led Government has been at the forefront of an aggressive campaign to dismantle regional barriers to agricultural trade. President Ali has said that in the next four years, with the assistance of more diversified crops, Guyana would aim to reduce Caricom’s food import bill by 25 per cent.

Months after assuming office, President Ali had charged the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry to assess and address the hurdles related to exporting food and agricultural products to markets within the Region. As such, concerns about barriers to trade in some Caricom markets were raised with the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) earlier this year.

The Ministry subsequently formed a National Working Group on Barriers to Trade against Exports from Guyana. According to the assessment on market access by the Working Group, most of the challenges found were related to technical measures including sanitary and phytosanitary measures. It also found several technical and administrative regulations that were all hampering the export of Guyanese products.

Other countries have been onboard in supporting Guyana’s drive to improve regional food security, with Guyana signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in May with Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). The two countries agreed to work with each other in eradicating trade non-tariff barriers, as well as in the areas of infrastructure development and transportation.
Among the resolutions contained in the MoU, is for the two parties to work assiduously on the removal of barriers to the trade of agricultural products throughout the Region. This includes phytosanitary standards.

A high-level bilateral commission was also to be established to overlook the implementation of the agreement. The commission will include high-level members of the Government and private sector.