A spirited fight! That’s what Minister of Industry Donville Inniss has promised the local rum industry, which he said was facing unprecedented pressure from subsidised competition.
Speaking last night at the launch of Mount Gay Rum’s 310 anniversary celebrations, Inniss said: “One thing that trouble me with our rum industry is the extent to which it is currently under siege by our international friends… I believe it is quietly becoming an open secret that the Barbados rum industry is under immense pressure, primarily from those who heavily subsidise their manufacturers of competing products. And this is not a nice situation.
“Our rum industry currently generates almost $50 million in foreign exchange … on an annual basis through export… It also employs hundreds of Barbadians directly, and indirectly through the suppliers of goods and services to the rum industry there are many other hundreds of Barbadians who are gainfully employed.
“And when you add those numbers who are employed with the foreign exchange which we earn, and cap that off with the fact that even our tourist industry benefits tremendously through our promotional efforts, we recognise that as a Government we have a duty to do all that is possible to ensure that our rum industry is not just protected, but that there is somewhat of a level playing field in the global arena.”
The minister added: “So I wish to say to you, the management of Mount Gay, and the entire rum industry, that the Ministry of Foreign Trade, ably supported by the Ministry of Commerce and all other Government departments, will work with a sense of urgency to ensure that the threats posed to the rum industry are raised in the right international fora so that our voices can be heard and that we can insist on a level playing field, or at least adherence to international trade rules.
“It may emerge as a David and Goliath situation, particularly when we realise the Goliath we are battling, but it is fundamentally a matter of principal, because there are other countries which heavily subsidise their rum … manufacturers, while at the same time imposing heavy levels of taxation on Barbadian rums into their market. This is not fair.
“These are countries that have signed on to the World Trade Organisation rules, and therefore we are duty bound as a Government to ensure that we do all within our power to ensure that our industry here, which may be small in the global arena, is not squashed by those powerful giants out there.
“I can only hope that before we get into any battles that … common sense will prevail…”
At the same time, he told the management of Mount Gay that with their rich history and penetration into 75 countries, there was still significant potential for growth into new markets.
“Nothing pleases me more when I travel around the world and see a Barbadian product,” Inniss said. “It really lifts my spirits – no pun intended.” (RRM)
Please see also pages 20 & 21.