Government will not be bowing to any pressure from the agriculture sector as it decides whether to allow imports of eggs and poultry to deal with reported shortages.
In fact, Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss told Barbados TODAY that no matter how much chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) James Paul “rants and raves”, he was prepared to okay importation of the commodities once the situation was fully assessed by all stakeholders and a shortage was confirmed.
At a Press conference yesterday, Paul – who is also a Member of Parliament on the Government bench – acknowledged that some suppliers had egg shortages, but stressed that other players were able to meet the demand over the Christmas period.
He said he would be standing “stoutly” against any move to import.
However, Inniss said the interest of all consumers was paramount and while the Government would not “wilfully or maliciously do anything to cause harm to the egg and poultry producers in Barbados”, it “cannot facilitate any harm” to the tourism industry and the wider public.
He said while Paul had a right to strongly defend the agriculture industry, he “must also be mindful that, in as much he is saying that the Government must not be bowing to the pressures of the tourism sector, likewise the Government will not bow to pressure from the agricultural sector like that either”.
“And if it takes the Government allowing the importation of chicken or eggs to address a shortage or projected shortage of these commodities in the marketplace, then the Government will do that in spite of how of much Mr Paul rants and raves,” Inniss said.
“My position, quite frankly, is that the BAS, the farmers and the hotel group need to get their act together. I for one will not hesitate in supporting any application for any licence to import these items if there is a shortage,” the minister contended, adding that he was annoyed when he heard “people ranting and raving and playing on emotions and talking about how many jobs will be lost and how the small black man is affected, etcetera”.
“If you think small and operate small you will always remain small. You guys have to see the bigger picture,” he said.
Inniss said he had brief conversation on the matter with the Ministry of Tourism Ministry as well as Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick and they would be gathering information and objectively assessing the situation “and where we need to influence or intervene we will do that”.
“A few months ago my ministry authorized the importation of chicken wings in Barbados. I was told that it would bring an end to the poultry industry and it should have never been done, how wicked and cruel and inhumane it would be to the farmers. But based on information presented to me, we took a decision and allowed the chicken wings to come in. The Government received nearly $100,000 in duties, consumers got their wings and, far from closing down or cutting down on production, we are now a few months later with a situation where there are allegations of shortage of poultry products and eggs in Barbados,” Inniss argued.
Inniss said he believed there were “major weaknesses in the system” that needed to be addressed, adding that the problem not only stood to affect hotels, restaurants and supermarkets across the island, but also households, bakeries and small cook shops.
“[There are] weaknesses that do not allow the producers to properly forecast. There are also weaknesses in terms of the communication between the producers and the consumers,” he said.
The minister said it was time for all the stakeholders to come together away from the public spotlight, to do “serious planning and forecasting” and improve their communication.Inniss added that if a shortage of feed played a role in the reported poultry and egg scarcity then he expected feed producers’ and officials of the Barbados Egg and Poultry Producers Association (BEPPA) to “have the necessary talks to resolve their issues”.
“But, at the end of the day, the Government cannot protect the egg and poultry producers blindly while consumers suffer. This is an opportunity where all heads must come together in a sober manner and resolve the issues in the best interest in the country,” he advised.