Barbados stands to see a major cut in its approximately $500 million food import bill as a result of a new Caribbean Community (CARICOM) plan that would reduce the region’s collective bill by US$1.25 billion over the next five years.
The plan was one of the major decisions taken at the two-day 31st CARICOM Inter-Sessional meeting, which concluded today at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
At a post-summit press conference, CARICOM Chairman Prime Minister Mia Mottley revealed that the “comprehensive” plan was devised by the region’s private sector and labour movement and it was decided Caribbean leaders would take the requisite steps to ensure it becomes reality within the specified period.
“We took a very comprehensive report from the Regional Private Sector Organization and from the Caribbean Congress of Labour and this is perhaps one of the most pleasing things to me. As you know, one year ago we announced that we would want to bring these organizations to the table as associate institutions of CARICOM. We met with them and gave them a task which would look at production integration across four areas, which included food security,” she said.
Mottley revealed that the plan, which deals with both livestock and crops, would not only increase the region’s self-sufficiency but would also boost the potential for increased foreign exchange.
“The report that came sets out a pathway towards us being able to work towards substituting 25 per cent of our food import bill, which at the moment stands at US$5 billion. We will look to cut out 25 per cent of that in the next five years. What was heartening was that they had a clear plan across livestock and crops and also would have the potential to earn foreign exchange,” she explained.
Mottley, who has championed this cause since her Barbados Labour Party took the reins of power here two years ago, made it clear that unlike other plans in the past that have inspired little action, the regional leaders were fully committed to seeing this initiative through to the end.
“This would require action on the part of private investors at all levels but it will also require further action on the part of governments and the Community to make it more serious, for that kind of production to take place from Guyana and Suriname in the south to Jamaica in the north, from Belize in the west to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean in the east,” she said.
“To that extent, we believe that the people of the region, in the course of the next few years, can see a Caribbean that is committed to feeding themselves. We have agreed that this plan will come to the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee so that they could report back on the basis of an implementation plan. We have confidence that this would add serious value.”
The CARICOM Chairman noted that the regional leaders were equally committed to following through on a number of other decisions, such as the removal of lingering barriers to free movement, additional funding for the CARICOM Development Fund, and addressing the upsurge in violent crime as a public health issue.
Prime Minister Mottley added that CARICOM was seeking to present a united front on the issue of blacklisting and threats to correspondent banking.