Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland, is maintaining that the decision taken by Government to institute a two-month ban on the importation of chicken wings during the COVID-19 pandemic was the right call.
He gave a detailed explanation about the decision by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, following a meeting with officials from Chickmont Foods Limited and a subsequent tour of the plant at Lowlands, Christ Church, on Friday.
Minister Sutherland said that the value of chicken wing imports to the local poultry market was around $4.5 million or one-third of the market at the time of COVID-19. This, he said, created a situation where the huge imports of wings caused a lack of appetite for other chicken parts by consumers.
Additionally, Sutherland stated that the situation resulted in a rise in unemployment figures at Chickmont, which was forced to lay off 130 of its staff members on account of a loss of business from restaurants and hotels during the pandemic.
“So, we had to make a decision as a Cabinet what is best for the industry; … what is best for the small growers because not only Chickmont Foods grow chicken. We have small businesses as well who grow chicken and sell chicken. I am here because Chickmont, they have related businesses that depend on them but we have to cater to the entire poultry industry, whether it is eggs or poultry, and chicken wings were indeed one of the factors I think that would have impacted the local industry,” Sutherland underlined.
Even though the island imports $14 million in poultry, the Minister pointed out that it was not Government’s intention to ban imports, since the World Trade Organization’s rulings, and the reduction to technical barriers to trade dictate that countries could not ban imports.
He revealed that chicken wing imports attracted duties of 184 per cent, and while it was a popular delicacy for many Barbadians, and provided a “quick dollar” for small business owners and restaurants, Sutherland acknowledged that “at the end of the day we create the fiscal space that our local poultry producers, our local pork producers, can indeed flourish”.
“So, if we are looking to address unemployment, … if we are looking to address GDP, if we are looking to enhance the micro, small and medium enterprise sector, we have to create the fiscal space for [these businesses] to indeed flourish,” he added.
The Small Business Minister said the current ban would be reviewed by the Minister of Agriculture, Indar Weir, as more businesses open back up.
Sutherland said Government had heard the cries from all quarters, and stressed that in his opinion, the Minister took a bold decision to ban the imports for two months to create the fiscal space.
He urged Barbadians to lessen their desire for chicken wings, and instead consume healthier poultry products and vegetables to help the country combat the scourge of non-communicable diseases.