Trini rejection of Guyana milk imports: Story of failed regional integration

Guyana President Dr Irfaan Ali - Angelo Marcelle
Guyana President Dr Irfaan Ali - Angelo Marcelle

THE EDITOR: The recent decision by TT Customs officials to ban containers of milk emanating from Guyana, manufactured by Demerara Distillers Ltd, is in poor taste and could have been avoided.

The “misunderstanding” is attributed to a Trinidadian importer not ensuring that approval was granted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries. Indeed, a one-off importer licence was not applied for. However, these breaches may be the result of lack of information.

Moreover, I am contending that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas guarantees free movement of goods, services and labour among Caricom states. It is egregious for TT Customs officials to explicitly explain their policies only after the matter descended into diplomatic tension.

My first argument censuring the Trinidadian authorities hinges upon the need for transparency in their rules of operation governing intra-regional trade, particularly as it relates to animal products. Understandably, TT must protect its biodiversity and repel animal-borne disease by enforcing the requirements of its Animal Diseases and Importation Act.

The act adequately operationalises WHO recommendations. However, are the traders’ requirements that are stipulated by this act publicised throughout Caricom? This question remains pertinent as a decade ago there were perceptions of anti-Jamaica trade, resulting from TT’s refusal of Jamaican patties into the country, which contained beef that originated from nations with mad cow disease.

Even in that instance, information was not well circulated to the entire region. It would be wise for the country’s Ministry of Trade and Industry to publish information widely on these matters to avoid a perception that this nation is conducting xenophobic protectionism.

My second argument condemning the Trinidadian Customs officials is in their group-think error of lack of diplomatic foresight that their actions would result in reasonable backlash on social and mass media from Guyana. In fact, Guyana’s President Dr Irfaan Ali also voiced his discontent that the blocking of the containers of milk was against the spirit of intra-regional trade.

In the interest of regionalism and food security, the Customs officials could have contacted the country’s chief veterinary officer to expediently process the Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Ministry application and encouraged the importer to engage in an expedient import permit request. Of course, this matter would have required Customs offcials communicating with relevant ministers. Is there a case of breakdown in communication or bureaucratic red tape within the Customs department and Trade and Industry Ministry?

My third argument is forwarded at various government agencies in every country that is a signatory to Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). I am critical about whether each member-state’s Customs department has a manual that is digitised or printed that can be distributed throughout Caricom, explaining all the conditions for intra-regional goods entering its borders. When Caricom goods are denied entry at a neigbouring Caricom port it evokes wider fears about certain nations being insular, classist or racist.

Notably, the unfortunate case of Shanique Myrie of Jamaica being denied entry to Barbados 2013 and being treated poorly by Immigration officials is emblematic of a wider concern that some Guyanese and Jamaicans have voiced in traversing airports in Barbados and Trinidad. The litany of complaints warrants possible reorientation and training of Immigration and Customs officials, and greater information flow from these officials.

Trinidad’s various government agencies must internalise that proactive treatment of regional traders and skilled workers is essential for the country’s sustainable development. In an era of globalisation, Caricom nations are vulnerable to economies of scale enjoyed by foreign competitors outside of the region. We need to prioritise market access for regional partners within Caricom to reduce our cost of living, to enhance our quality of life and because we are “one family.”



lecturer, Jamaica


"Trini rejection of Guyana milk imports: Story of failed regional integration"

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