The Prime Minister called for economic unity in his address at the Caricom Agri Investment Forum and Expo in Guyana on Thursday, saying that unless Caricom recognises itself as a single market economy and compiles its knowledge and talents, it will never achieve its common goals, such as food security.
“We know what to do. The question is, are we prepared to do it?” Dr Rowley said.
“We cannot, as a small economy fighting against the winds that are buffeting us, as they did so valiantly during covid19’s worst days, still be operating on the basis ‘of you versus me’ and ‘mine versus yours.’ While we want to protect our present agriculture, while we want to ensure that our interest is not trampled upon, we must do what we have to do to increase production.”
Rowley was one of a delegation of Caricom leaders who spoke at the opening of the expo.
Joining him in making opening remarks were leaders such as Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. The expo is expected to run from May 19-21.
Rowley said the covid19 pandemic and the resulting strains on food security, medicine and food supply were a warning that the region needs a unified approach to food production, should there be another crisis.
“The experts have told us is that what we have experienced in covid19 is likely to happen again, and likely to happen more frequently.
“And for those who, in the worst days of covid19, heard our private sector tell us as government that they could not place an order for a supply of food, and our ministry of health could not administer a vaccine, even though they had the money to buy it, but because we could not buy a vaccine, we have been warned.
“At the beginning of the pandemic we saw that nobody is going to come to our assistance and we will have to do it ourselves.
“When Barbados couldn’t buy a half-dozen ventilators, we couldn’t buy a vaccine. Those who had them kept them for themselves.
“Nobody is going to give us food when it is in short supply. We have to act now so that next time we would be in a better position.”
He said during his visit to Guyana he spoke at length to Guyanese President Irfaan Ali on increasing food production and trade in food and they agreed it could not be done without a business model. He said Trinidad and Tobago is in a position to provide such a model that will help the region expand its food supply to weather any crises.
Rowley also shared several ideas to boost business in the region and increase the ease of doing business. These included a single Caricom business registry – where, if an entity registers its business anywhere in the Caricom, that registration would be valid in all Caricom countries.
He also spoke about a Caricom ferry service to transport people and goods.
“When we were a federation – that fleeting existence that we had – the Canadian Government gave us a gift. That was two ships the Federal Maple and the Federal Palm – and they ran up and down the Caricom. At no time that I can recall were the people of this region ever better connected and served,” Rowley said.
“But at the end of the useful life of these ships, they were never replaced. Not because there was no reason to replace them and that the job had been done, but that we, the independents, had not done what had to be done to serve our people.”
Rowley also suggested people change their diets to suit the crops tthe region can produce. He lamented that not enough ground crops such as cassava and sweet potato were being consumed. He also suggested diversifying crops on a regional scale, with different crops being available for trade from different countries. He said although other countries are growing grain and other foods, it does not mean the region has to grow the same varieties, and it is possible to get varieties of these commodities that are suitable for regional climates and environment.
“That is where our universities come in: the University of TT, the University of Guyana, UWI. Our research now has to be identifying for our producers the varieties that we can produce on scale, so we could supply ourselves with the inputs for animal feed.
“We want to see fields of soya in Belize and Guyana, where there is land availability. We want to see corn being harvested and grown in areas where it can be grown.”
However, he noted there would be naysayers to the idea of Caricom’s being a single market economy. He said two weeks agohis government approached Parliament with legislation that would increase the range of skilled people allowed to move from country to country in the region and they were faced with opposition.
“We experienced voices within our Parliament openly objecting and indicating that it would be taking jobs from our local people,” he said. “We have to get away from that.”
Rowley said while there would be people who wanted to protect the present agriculture of each individual country and ensure each country’s interest is not overlooked, the region has to do what it can to increase production.
“That increase in production is going to disturb the status quo of the current arrangements,” he said. “That status quo will dominate the conversation of protection. and we will not get things done. Why do you think
Prime Minister Skerrit is saying to you today that he could sell avocadoes to Europe, but he can’t sell it 100 miles down the road? Why do you think we have so many possibilities of production within the region, but there is no easy movement of these products? A lot of it is the protection of the status quo.”
After the contributions, the Caricom leaders were taken on a tour of the expo by President Ali, where the leaders looked at innovations and new trends in agro-processing and farming.