Evidently, and not unbemusedly, there is strong voice of disapproval from the Ministry of Agriculture of the flood into Barbados of “cheap, inferior food produce” from, of all places, China –– an apparent fallout of the global free trading we have been as a nation so estactic about, and so embracing.
After all, international free trade –– its inefficiencies, imbalances, infelicities and inequities conveniently unforeseen and yet unseen –– has been the thing for “progressive-thinking”, developed and developing island-state nations “going forward”, as they say. When these types of pact are signed on to, and glorified by our political leaders as symbolic of our rightful place and participation in the global economy, little thought is given to how we may in effect be compromised –– until late; oft-times too late!
What ought to be obviously clear is that the international trade order, which sparks of a state of continual global economic change, as it “develops” does not present advantage of any kind on a platter to participants like us –– nationwise, that is.
And here now we have Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Esworth Reid excoriating “unpatriotic importers in the distributive trade” who have gone “as far as places as China and other far-off lands to import an abundance of cheaper produce, both in price and quality, to flood the market”.
These Barbadian importers may just be “unpatriotic”; but are they doing anything illegal? Aren’t they operating within the international trade parameters established by our consenting powers that be, “going forward”?
It would seem no profound consideration was given by our leaders to the low level of control we would have as a nation once we were signatories to this “progressive” concept of international trade
Global free trade is essentially the laissez-faire approach (with no restrictions on importing and exporting) to supply and demand, on a worldwide scale, of a range of products and services –– overwhelmingly products –– for easy consumption. And the cost of production of such will be a factor in how well global participants fare in this international trade transaction.
We were somehow led to believe that in global trading there would be no need for protectionism to stimulate our own trade promotion and growth, as global market forces would provide such automatically in the throw-up of things. The thought of protectionism in this new scheme of themes was even deemed unlawful.
Meanwhile, regionally, we pummel each other with trade tariffs and surreptitious import barriers.
China’s dumping of cheap products in foreign markets, including Barbados, is easy because labour costs in the East Asian nation of one billion plus people are a fraction of those of almost every other nation, and certainly of what Sir Roy Trotman would stand for for Barbadian workers.
To be truthful, we empathize with Permanent Secretary Reid in his concern for the negative effect these cheap Chinese food products would have in our agricultural sector, with the drying up of farming and its consequent pay cuts and loss of jobs. This is understandably disconcerting.
Of course, there are the defenders of this free-for-all global trading who will point to the United States as another place overrun by Chinese manufactured products too –– but who do not complain. They will identfy China’s flooding of America with Apple iPhones, Dell computers, Hasbro toys, Mattel dolls, Gap shirts, Nike shoes and a whole host of other products.
They will have missed though that these items are all creations of American companies –– simply made in China at a profit of 50 per cent or more.
Permanent Secretary Reid is right on the button about the importance of market information. Access to it can paint you a whole new picture, and allow for proper analysis of services in one’s market. The pilot Market Information System (MIS) which the Ministry of Agriculture has launched should solve the problem of the lack of available data pertinent to the sustainability of the agricultural sector.
But much will hang on what intelligence may be gained from the very stakeholders this MIS is intended to benefit. The challenge at home –– and from the borders of China –– will be no cakewalk for Mr Reid and team. What if, with all the current talk of closer ties between Barbados and China, we have our own brand-name products manufactured in China for swelling profit margins –– much like the Americans do?
It is a great temptation to give Chinese dumping a new face and name for the chance at an overall boon to our economy.
Stakeholders, we? Or traders!
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