AGRICULTURE Minister Clarence Rambharat said covid19 is not just a pandemic.
At a webinar hosted by UWI's Cocoa Research Institute (CRC) on Wednesday, Rambharat said over the last year and a half, covid19 has been disruptive and uncertain on many different levels across the world. He said the effects of the virus were not restricted to human health and lives.
"It has caused us to re-think our trading relationships. It's increased the cost of doing business and it has re-shaped markets that have existed and creating markets that did not exist."
"Covid is not just a pandemic. It, to me, is a significant economic shake-up. It is a significant multilateral shake up and we have to pay attention to the lessons learned from covid beyond the pandemic or the core medical issues."
Rambharat said covid has impacted upon the global cocoa industry.
"We need to be paying attention to the relationship between cocoa, chocolate and sugar." While many people talk about the many benefits of cocoa, Rambharat said, "Cocoa essentially exists for the chocolate business and chocolate is essentially the sugar business.
"We have to be very mindful of the movement and crossover that seeks to declare or treat sugar as an unsafe food in the context of food safety."
Rambharat said this movement involves action by legislators, regulators and in relation to marketing and advertising.
"We must be very conscious of that challenge that comes, not in the form of pests and diseases or market barriers, but comes at the heart of cocoa's existence which is essentially to service a food that is sugar."
Rambharat said the relationship between cocoa, Africa and Europe needs to be clearly understood.
"We have to confront what is happening in terms of the growing and the concentration of growing and the concentration of production in Africa and the reality that Europe dominates cocoa and chocolate, without having the conditions under which cocoa can be grown."
He said, " We have to decide how we are going to deploy our limited resources, how we are going to leverage what we have and how we are going to create partnerships."
Rambharat said cocoa politics and pricing must be examined too. "We have seen the growing movement, particularly in the (cocoa) growing countries in Africa towards leveraging quality to influence pricing confluence around the world post-covid."
He said the governments of these countries have been under pressure from their respective electorates with respect to poverty alleviation, access to assets and the perception of wealth being concentrated only in a very small percentage of their populations.
Rambharat said Trinidad and Tobago also needs to be cognisant of the ways in which its trading partners can erect barriers within and outside of the World Trade Organization's framework, making some markets more difficult to access to some markets more difficult than to others.
He said TT and other small island states need to continue to build their capacities "to negotiate and also have the appropriate technical information which would inform our negotiating position."
Rambharat said there remains a lot of interest and emotion in cocoa in TT and the rest of the region.
"Cocoa is a very integral thing...a lot of history in it..it still has a lot of very, very strong support.
“We have to continue to examine how we use that emotional, historical and quality in terms of cocoa proponents...in terms of cocoa and its core nutritional values and its ability to influence value-added products."
Rambharat said a few months ago, Cabinet approved a request for an agri-expo to be hosted at UWI's St Augustine campus. He said the date has to be determined in relation to the existing public health regulations. Rambharat said cocoa and chocolate production will be featured prominently at that event.