AGRICULTURE Minister Clarence Rambharat said careful thought must be given to protecting things which could be considered indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago.
He made the point at a webinar hosted by the University of the West Indies' Cocoa Research Centre on Wednesday.
Referring to the recent J'Ouvert Rum controversy, Rambharat said, "We have to be very careful sometimes in trying to protect something that we believe is a God-given gift."
In June, some TT nationals accused American actor Michael B Jordan of cultural appropriation after launching a new rum line called J'Ouvert. At that time, Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said the issue raised concern regarding intellectual property rights.
The launch on social media included the display of a box set of the rum with a schematic of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, plus a written reference to Trinidad and to J'Ouvert as a local celebration of emancipation and Carnival. Also featured in the display were two bottles of Angostura Bitters. Angostura Ltd said it had no business arrangement with Jordan for the launch of the rum.
Jordan later apologised and promised to rename the rum.
Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning said there was a “golden opportunity” to build a relationship between TT and Jordan’s rum line which could support the local culture and arts sector.
As he reflected on the controversy, Rambharat said, "We have to be very cognisant of the need for partnership, the need for outreach, the need for leveraging strategic assets and support that may lie elsewhere.
"We need to actually create the pie before we destroy the non-existent pie."
He recalled similar instances in the past. Rambharat said in 1996, many Carnival lovers in TT were vehemently opposed to Jamaican artiste Eddy Grant performing music "done by somebody else without paying royalties."
He added, "I was also involved in the infamous valuation of the Caroni rum at $5 billion, when we were trying to establish a strategic partnership with Angostura that would have secured that rum stock in 1999." At that time, American valuator Robert Fuchs estimated that 18,000-plus casks of raw rum held by Caroni 1975 Ltd could be converted into premium aged rums on a phased basis, with an estimated gross value of between $1 billion and $6 billion, depending on “intent of product.”
Then prime minister Basdeo Panday estimated those stocks were worth “considerably less than (TT) $100 million”. He also said here were rumours that the Government was planning to sell a 49 per cent stake in Caroni’s Rum Division (later renamed Rum Distillers Ltd) to Angostura for $35 million. No deal was ever finalised between Caroni and Angostura about those rum stocks, before Caroni's closure in 2003.