A Government Member of Parliament is warning the Freundel Stuart-administration that Barbados’ agricultural industry could be decimated if it proceeds with signing a trade pact with Canada in June.
James Paul, president of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), said the country lacked the necessary regulatory framework to take advantage of any such deal and noted that he wanted the products produced here to be given maximum preferences.
Paul said economy of scale, trade benefits and subsidies given to Canadian farmers and companies put local farmers of livestock and fruits and vegetables at a significant disadvantage.
Additionally, he said, the country could not afford to dismantle the tariff regime on agricultural products at this time in light of the economic challenges it is facing.
“We have to be careful that we don’t throw away the baby with the bath water. The agricultural sector is too vital at this time for Barbados and even for the region and in these negotiations if the Canadians are going to play hard-ball, we should tell them, ‘no agreement is better than a bad agreement’ because at the end of the day we would still have to face the world,” he said during a Press conference earlier today.
“I don’t think we should put ourselves in a position where we give away everything we have to protect in order to get benefits that are more imaginary than real.”
Representatives of CARICOM and Canada have, so far, held five rounds of negotiations with progress reported in the areas of goods, market access, Government procurement, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, labour and environment.
And Canada is insisting that the trade agreement will take into account differing levels of development, vulnerabilities associated with island states, and trade-related capacity challenges.
But Paul argues that Barbadian authorities have made little progress in putting the necessary systems in place to benefit from the deal.
“Unless we change the legislation under which we operate, for instance, the whole question of the sanitary and phytosanitary controls that we have in the region [and] the legislation of course needs to be updated especially when it comes to the area of the export of meat products in this country,” he said.
He noted that Barbados is not likely to have a National Agriculture Health and Food Safety Agency until 2015, while urging the authorities to enact legislation to make the chief veterinary officer the principal authority by which the approval is given for the export of meats.
He noted Barbados’ failure to reap the benefits of the Economic Partnership Agreement signed six years ago with the European Union, stating that many enterprises have not been able to access development funds available under that arrangement because of the bureaucracy involved.
“We said to them if you don’t put the enabling legislation in place we would not be able to take advantage of the EPA. The Europeans were supposed to provide funds for us to do this [but] we have not seen the funds. A lot of the funds were spent on the bureaucracy. All I’m saying is that let us not make the same mistake,” he said.
While the BAS boss said the authorities have failed to take their concerns on board, he is adamant that the group should be properly consulted to help thrash out the country’s position ahead of the signing.
He says CARICOM also needs to consult more with the productive sectors in the region.
Last November, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, acknowledged that her ministry has been challenged by the implementation of the EPA and determining how to maximize its benefits.
The situation has caused the country to fall short of several benchmarks set within the arrangement.