Barbados’ struggling sugar industry might get an ease from stiff competition in imported sugar if CARICOM’s council of trade ministers grant protection for the region’s product, according to the body representing CARICOM producers.
As the Sugar Association of the Caribbean began its annual meeting here on Wednesday, chairman Karl James hinted at a plans to apply to CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the entity which oversees trade in the regional bloc.
James complained that the regional market is being flooded with sugar produced extra-regionally, even though CARICOM produces enough sugar to supply its home market. He also revealed that plans are in place to ramp up production of white sugar to ensure there is no excuse for the continued tariff-free importation of external sugar.
CARICOM leaders have agreed to enforce the provision for a 40 per cent Common External Tariff – the duty on goods from outside CARICOM – on the importation of brown sugar.
But James gave an assurance that this move would not result in higher prices to consumers and would in fact result in the stability of sugar prices, as the price of CARICOM sugar remains constant amid fluctuating prices on the world market.
He said: “The [CARICOM] Market that is supposed to support the disposal of locally produced material, products like sugar, which is one of the oldest industries in the region, are not benefitting from this arrangement.
“We produce twice the amount of sugar that is currently used by the Caribbean yet 2/3 of the consumption requirement is imported from outside of the region and it is not paying any duties.
“So we are undermining the local sugar industry and we are saying that the Treaty of Chaguaramas provides for protection of local production.
“All sorts of reasons have been given why they can’t use sugar produced in the region.
“So, we are on a crusade to get CARICOM to enforce the part of the treaty that requires a 40 per cent common external tariff on brown sugar because we produce all that is required.
“We have found in recent times that a good quantity of brown sugar is coming in from Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil.”
James also revealed that the SAC is lobbying for CARICOM sugar to be given priority in manufacturing , which means that exceptions would only be granted to specialty sugars not produced in th region.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, General Manager of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company Ltd (BAMC) Leslie Parris explained that the protection augurs well for the sustainability of Barbados’ sugar industry.
In the last three years, he said, the industry has repositioned itself to producing a higher percentage of direct consumption sugar, which brings a higher price than the raw bulk.
Currently the majority of the island’s table sugar is exported to the US while raw bulk is exported to the United Kingdom.
Parris said: “Our efforts have been somewhat dampened by the importation of direct consumption sugar from external regions.
“This has impacted on our overall profitability.
“This has been compounded by the fact that the sales in London over the last two years have been impacted by the events taking place in the European market such as Brexit and the rapid development of beet sugar.
“So, we now have to rely more heavily on the local and regional market.”