Region does not have “luxury of time” with food security – Pres Ali

…progress made for removing all non-tariff barriers

Pushing for urgent action to accomplish food security in the Caribbean Community, President Dr Irfaan Ali has contended that the Region does not have the “luxury of time” to address this topical crisis.
President Ali is on a State visit to Trinidad and Tobago. At a joint press conference on Thursday with Prime Minister of Trinidad, Dr Keith Rowley, the two leaders updated on a series of discussions and progress that was made in areas of regional importance.

President Irfaan Ali with Trinidadian Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley

Focal points of this Guyana-Trinidad engagement have been energy, agriculture, tourism and youth development. Carrying a strong agenda to slash the food import bill and drive agriculture in the region, the idea is to disrupt the model of relying on imported goods.
The Guyanese leader expressed that these “weighty” discussions are not only geared at increasing the food production or getting people involved in agriculture. It is about having the right policy framework in place to cushion incoming investments to support farmers, regional trade and the logistics hub in advancing food security plans.
Dr Ali outlined, “Make no mistake. We don’t have the luxury of time to advance this issue of food security. Food security is not only important from a price perspective. You can have the money but you don’t have the food. We’re seeing even in developed world, many empty shelves. One of the things that we don’t normally address is access to fresh water. Our food production system requires fresh water.”
Ali said supply chain disruptions and shortages brought on by COVID-19 and the Ukrainian war, paint the picture for the Region to act with urgency.

Removing barriers
In the area of food security, Guyana and Trinidad are working to combine efforts, policies, commitment to removing barriers, technology and research into an integrated plan to advance food security between the two nations.
“We will be part of the global leadership on food security. You [Trinidad] have a very sophisticated manufacturing and agro-processing industry. You already have the advantage in terms of the cost of energy. What we are working on now is building the productive capacity to ensure that the input is there to optimise the production.”
In looking at the transition to a food secure region, Ali said it is not hinged on creating disruption, but rather re-engineering the current apparatus and integrating existing distributors. He noted that the Governments will be engaging the private sector to foster a win-win situation.
“Now would this create disruption? No, but in the eyes of some, it may look like a disruption. That is why we’re also trying to bring every single stakeholder on the table. The distributors of this region must be part of the answer. We have to re-engineer a reversal of the production chain and the supply chain in terms of food,” the Guyanese Head of State underlined.
Guyana has committed to sending 5000 coconut plants to Trinidad, as the nation has faced devastation to this resource in recent years. Additionally, shade houses for vegetable production will also be available for the twin-island republic.

Guyana and Trinidad have also committed to advancing a series of action to tackle global problems. Apart from energy security, President Ali detailed that even though Guyana is a carbon sink, it is still creating the blue economy to target climate change.
“The war in Ukraine is far away from us but the consequences are right with us. The supply chain disruption as a result of the pandemic is not caused by us but we are faced with the greatest consequence in that supply chain disruption. We, the people of Trinidad and Guyana, must understand that we live in this global context. Unless we are ready and willing to take and make hard decisions that will allow us to confront the challenges in this global environment and to put systems in which we will develop the necessary capacity to confront these global challenges, then we will not be leaving a sustainable pathway.”
Energy security has been highly discussed between the two leaders, in carving out a policy that will enable reliability and sustainability. This will bring together human and technological assets to better equip the entire region with energy security.
“We want a strategic approach on integrating our advantages that we have in building out a sound path towards energy sustainability, resilience and reliance for the region. This is a big part of our agenda with the US too…The fact of the matter is that we have to very forcibly look at our bureaucratic structure to see and to ensure that it doesn’t work as a hinder to the decisions and policies and programmes we want to advance. You can look forward to a very actionable platform through which this relationship will advance and develop,” the President detailed.
From this meeting, a working group with stakeholders from Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname was created to lead the Region’s energy security agenda and the collaboration with their US counterpart.

Non-tariff barriers have proven to be a significant hindrance to free trade within Caricom countries, but efforts have been ongoing to remove all such barriers within the Region.
President Ali underscored that progress has been made to return to true free trade in the Region, with the technical task force handling the removal of all non-tariff barriers.
“That technical task force, part of their responsibility is to work on the removal of all non-tariff barriers. We already have a complete list of all the non-tariff barriers and you will see the potential that exists.”
According to the Trinidadian Prime Minister, resolving barriers that have been affecting trade in the Region should be done with “fierce urgency”.
In relation to the non-tariff barriers, Rowley said this has been a prevalent issue throughout Caricom and hinders the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) mechanism.
“Once that is in play and is not under strict control or reduction or elimination, then the whole idea of the single market and economy is undermined…Those are impediments to production in the Region and once there are impediments to production in the Region, it invites supply from outside of the Region,” the Prime Minister outlined.
Typically, Rowley pointed out that countries have been banning produce or other goods from entering their ports due to the possibility of pests. Custom officers can also make this call, if the item in question is a supposed threat.
The Trinidadian PM pointed out that if policymakers interpret these statues and have a clear outline, it will prevent persons from venturing outside of these interpretations. Moreover, he added that if countries are producing but barriers still exist, then the food security agenda will fail.
“There are things you can do that are not tariff and those things are subjective…If a Caricom country is producing food or the raw material for making food…and there are barriers between Caricom countries, then increasing Caricom production for Caricom countries will not succeed,” Rowley contended. (G12)