Senior Government Minister Donville Inniss has two supporters, of sorts, as he expresses frustration with CARICOM’s failure to fight alongside Barbados in its battle against subsidies being given to US territories.
Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM Robert “Bobby” Morris said yesterday that he is also disappointed, while immediate past CARICOM chairman, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, could “understand” Inniss’ frustration.
Inniss said in an interview with Barbados TODAY last weekend that although Barbados had supported St Lucia and the Eastern Caribbean islands when US entity Chiquita fought to get subsidies from the US Government, this country was not getting the same backing in a similar situation.
“Barbados didn’t produce bananas but we supported the cause because we saw the bigger issue. Today, it is Barbados’ turn in terms of rum and I am so embarrassed as a minister, as a politician, and as a citizen of this region to look behind me and find that there’s no one from the CARICOM region backing us. I, as a politician in this region, am totally embarrassed about the lack of interest on the part of region. I am not at all happy with what passes as prime ministers in this region and leaders at all,” he said.
While Morris was not as harsh as the senior minister who accused CARICOM Heads of “poor” leadership, he agreed that the regional bloc has not done enough.
“I would be very careful in terms of accepting the latitude that a minister can I have and I don’t think I can really go in that direction, but what I would say is that the rum issue is very important for Barbados,” Morris said yesterday while being interviewed at Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa where he attended the 35th CARICOM Heads of Government Conference.
“I have a disappointment – I’m not necessarily putting it to leadership – that there hasn’t been a better coalescing of the region around this issue, but I’m sure there are complexities in that . . . and it may be a leadership flaw but to focus on that alone, clearly, would not have been Minister Inniss’ intent.”
Morris disclosed that, to the best of his knowledge, Barbados had used almost every available avenue to fight the US granting US$500 million in subsidies to rum producers in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The move creates an uneven playing field and Barbados stands to lose about $60 million annually as well as hundreds of jobs as a result.
“We have used diplomatic channels, we have engaged very much with the rum producers and manufacturers, we have engaged with the United States trade representatives and we have lobbied our own CARICOM partners to see how we could get traction so that Barbados doesn’t carry it by itself because they’re several other countries involved,” the ambassador said.
“We had gone so far as to say that we would take the issue to the WTO [World Trade Organization]. Now that is a very costly exercise.”
Morris suggested that there were other issues that also have to be discussed as far as Barbados’ rum production is concerned.
He said just as there is a move from bulk sugar to refined sugar, Barbados may have to move away from bulk production of rum to specialized rums.
“And that would change our negotiating position, but that will take time and it will take money and I believe we have to go there,” Morris said.
Meantime, while Prime Minister Gonsalves told Barbados TODAY that while he had not himself heard Inniss’ comments and would therefore not respond to them directly, he could “understand his frustration if, on a particular issue like rum, that there has been a lot of dilly dallying and failure to take as firm a position as ought to have been taken and to follow through on that position.”
“So I can understand the impulse,” he added in a brief interview at the end of the CARICOM summit.