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Address by the Minister of Agriculture at The Opening Of The Caribbean Farmers Network Workshop PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Byer   
Friday, 02 July 2010 10:04

ADDRESS BY SENATOR THE HONOURABLE HAYNSELEY BENN, MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT AT

THE OPENING OF THE CARIBBEAN FARMERS NETWORK

(CAFAN) WORKSHOP ON TRADE FACILITATION HELD

AT THE SAVANNAH HOTEL, ON JULY 28TH 2008

 

Thank you, Master Ceremonies.

 

Senator The Honourable Norman Grant, President of the Jamaican Agricultural Society and Chairman of Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN);  Dr. Barbara Graham, Sub Regional Representative of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO); Mr. Joseph Peltier, Representative, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA); Mr. James Paul, Member of Parliament, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society and Director of CaFAN; Mr. Wendell Clarke, President of the Barbados Agricultural Society; Ms. Claudette DeFreitas, Representative of CARDI and Director of CaFAN; Mr. Dhano Sookoo, President of the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago and Director of CaFAN; Mr. Jethro Greene Representative of the Eastern Caribbean Trading and Development Corporation and Chief Coordinator of CaFAN; specially invited guests; the media; ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

Firstly, I would like to commend the CaFAN, the sponsors of this exercise, especially the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA), regional farmers’ organisations and facilitators for organising and supporting this very timely regional Workshop on Agricultural Trade Facilitation.  I would also like to take this opportunity to extend a very warm welcome to our visiting neighbours, friends and colleagues to our shores.  I am sure that you will enjoy our special Barbadian hospitality and culture during your stay.  Please savour our excellent local dishes and take time out to participate in our Crop Over activities.

 

It is a great honour for me to be here this evening and I wish to thank the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN) for inviting me to address you. 

 

My Ministry is pleased to be a part of these proceedings which come at a time when we are seeking to remove the barriers to intra-regional trade, in addition to facilitating the extra-regional marketing of our agricultural products.  This initiative by CaFAN will add value to our regional dialogue and help us to develop effective regional strategies for the execution of our agricultural policies in the most synergistic and effective manner.  There is no doubt about the need for us to formulate a regional and hemispheric response to the challenges we are experiencing, as a result of globalisation and trade liberalisation.  But despite these challenges, there are also opportunities in the various spheres of human endeavours that we can seize and use as a means of improving our economic and social well being.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, trade facilitation focuses on how procedures and controls governing the movement of goods across national borders can be improved to reduce associated costs burdens while at the same time maximising efficiency and safeguarding legitimate regulatory objectives.  There are certain regulatory activities which must be undertaken in order not to undermine the security, safety, health and development of a country.

 

Governments across the globe must ensure that effective controls and measures exists to prevent smuggling of goods and people, human trafficking, terrorism, importation of dangerous goods especially weapons and other contraband goods.  Regulatory regimes must also be in place to deal with such matters as immigration, customs, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, product testing and labelling, the management of waste and other environmental hazards and licensing arrangements.

 

Furthermore, fiscal measures form an essential part of the revenue base of most developing nations.  Therefore effective measures must be in place to prevent revenue leakages as people attempt to avoid customs duties, taxes and other levies on imported goods.

 

 One can therefore see and appreciate the complexities involved in implementing fair, flexible and responsive systems that facilitate trade, improve operational efficiencies, lower the cost of trade services and logistics, create an environment of competitiveness and limit loss of business opportunities.  Notwithstanding the challenges identified, it is necessary for small developing nations to strike a good balance between trade facilitation on the one hand and the need for regulation on the other hand.  In this regard, I would like to focus on the clearance of goods through ports of entry, trust and the psychological or emotional barriers to trade facilitation for a moment.

According to an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) study conducted some time ago, it was revealed that clearing the red tape at country borders would generate two times more gains to GDP than tariff liberalisation would.  Therefore, we should introduce or implement clearance procedures that are transparent, uniform, efficient and user friendly.  Clearance procedures at the Immigration Departments, Customs Departments and port authorities should be facilitative and regulatory authorities should recognise the importance of trade to economic growth, job creation, poverty reduction, income generation and business competitiveness.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, agricultural trade facilitation should be of importance to all of us from the perspective that increasing trade can have a profound impact on our countries’ economic development.   In order for us to expand trade however, it becomes necessary for us to reduce the transaction costs of doing business across borders.  This becomes especially critical at this time when countries are faced with soaring food prices and increases in the cost of living, since it is a well know fact that these transaction costs have as much an impact on the final cost of imported goods to the consumer, and input costs to producers, as do tariffs.   

 

Long delays at the ports can furthermore lead to increased export uncompetitiveness, which can result in countries pricing themselves right out of the market.   The delivery of goods and services in a timely manner, and at low costs, will therefore be a key determinant of a country’s ability to participate effectively in the global economy.

 

Several Caribbean ports have received a failing grade in a global survey on seaports and customs effectiveness. This World Bank study involving 150 participating countries, found Jamaica, Haiti and Guyana to have ranked 118th, 123rd and 141st respectively in terms of customs effectiveness.  The study ranked countries on a number of indicators which were part of a Logistics Performance Index (LPI) and included indicators such as efficiency of customs operators, infrastructure, logistics, competence, tracking and timeliness. Caribbean countries in general ranked low.  Barbados, Trinidad and the OECS were not part of the study. 

 

According to another World Bank publication,” Doing Business 2008,” the processing of customs documentation (import and export documents) can take from forty-one days in Antigua to as much as 104 working days in Guyana.

 

Not only is having the physical infrastructure in place critical to facilitate trade but another critical factor is having the necessary legislation and technical capacity in the host country to facilitate trade and to capitalise on opportunities in external markets.

 

CARICOM governments, in recognising the importance of trade facilitation have already begun to effect legislative reform and the adopting of new technologies. There are already several Customs Departments in the region that have been moving towards the implementation of the Asycuda “Plus Plus” system. Asycuda is a computerized customs management system which fast tracks the preparation and approvals of customs entries which should lead to greater efficiency in customs procedures.

 

In Barbados, as is the case in many other jurisdictions globally a ‘Traffic Light’ system is in place.  The red line indicates that a thorough examination of goods and documents must take place.  The orange or yellow line indicates that documents must be presented for examination and the green line indicates no examination is required.  However, post clearance examinations may be instituted.  I understand that about sixty percent (60%) of imported goods and documents are being examined.  In contrast, it is reported that in the United Kingdom the percentage of examinations done, is three percent (3%) due no doubt, to more effective control mechanisms and less dependence on custom levies.

 

Despite our modest strides, trade facilitation still continues to be a major impediment to trade for many of our jurisdictions. While there are opportunities to be gained from increased markets due to globalization and several new trading arrangements, we cannot capitalize on these opportunities, largely because of our failure to address these persistent issues.  The time has come where we can no longer sit back and continue to allow our economies to be marginalised and to be alienated from the gains of international trade. We as sovereign states need to allocate the necessary resources not only to ensure that we can fully participate in the trade liberalization process but also gain from it. We must seek ways of improving the procedures and controls which govern the movement of goods across national borders. We must adopt the necessary measures which will allow us to reduce associated costs. We must not only seek to improve the regulatory interface between government bodies and traders at national borders but we must also seek to enhance on-farm post harvest systems, marketing, processing and export activities which will support and strengthen our ability in the agricultural sector to effectively trade.

 

Right here in the region, there is potential for growth and expansion in intra-regional trade. The implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) has presented a platform whereby local agricultural investors and many others can use member states with larger land masses, adequate water resources, lower labour and input costs, to produce agricultural produce at a critical mass. This is all the more critical as we face continuing high food and oil prices and must seek viable alternatives in order to rationalize costs and ensure regional food security. Already, Guyana, Belize and Suriname have been identified as countries with the required land mass to enable the Region to attain some level of food security. The onus will however be upon CARICOM Member States, under the enabling environment of the CSME, to develop the necessary regional programmes to utilise such resources to their fullest.  It is therefore imperative for us to ensure that efficient and effective agricultural trade facilitation measures are implemented. 

 

The role of agricultural health and food safety standards is also a key component in facilitating regional trade.  Due to the lack of regional action on this issue, animal health and food safety continues to be one of the key factors hindering intra-regional trade, due to the threat of exposure to particular pests or diseases.  Addressing this issue at the regional level is therefore vital. I am sure that the proposed Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency will prove to be instrumental in ensuring that CARICOM countries are in a position to comply with and implement set regional standards.

 

 

Another key area that must be addressed if we are to increase our volume of trade in agricultural products is for us to ensure that we are in a position to meet internationally accepted standards, especially as it relates to Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) procedures.   It was intended that the SPS Regulations would be adopted by nations as a means of protecting animal and plant health, thus assuring the safety of food available to consumers.  However, what we have been experiencing is that those countries with the wherewithal to carry out the requisite scientific testing, have been using this to their advantage as a Technical Barrier to Trade (TBT), especially against exports from developing countries.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the issue of trust or lack of trust is very evident in our business relationships and our response to fiscal measures especially as they relate to taxation.  The high levels of examinations warranted by the Customs Department reflect doubts about compliance and trustworthiness within the system.  The importer’s history, the country of origin of the goods, the type of goods, among other criteria, are used by customs authorities when it employs the “Traffic Light” system.  I therefore wish to urge our business communities in the region to ensure that goods are imported from credible sources, that the documentation submitted is clear and accurate and that persons transacting business with the various regulatory authorities are oriented in the rudiments of the regulatory requirements.

 

We are experiencing rapid changes world wide in many spheres of activities whether it is in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, environment, health or politics, to mention a few.  Our human psychological or emotional response to these changes can to a great extent determine our success or failure to achieve even the best articulated objectives.  It is very easy for regulators to adopt a stereotypical approach in dealing with matters.  It is easy for developed countries to use their power to inflict hardships on vulnerable nations by keeping the trading playing field uneven.  It is easy for some of us to hide behind our cultural mores and fail to respond to challenges in a humane way.  If we are going to be able to break down the barriers that prevent trade facilitation, especially in agricultural commodities, then we must be willing to change ourselves.  We must be willing to critically analyse and adjust the way we behave given the dynamics and competitive nature of our world.

 

It is time that we in the Caribbean therefore move away from a monitoring system that relies simply on the imposition and policing of mandatory standards to one which is more scientifically based in terms of monitoring and verification. To do this will require financial and technical assistance and training. We will need to upgrade the infrastructure and capability at national levels for administering and regulating trade facilitating aspects of plant and animal health and food safety systems. There also needs to be enhanced capability in the area of laboratory analyses (e.g. pesticide residue analysis) and accreditation to support certification of exports as well as improvements in the quality of agri-food products and the ability of marketers to meet international standards. What also is needed is for the region to create sustainability in the agricultural sector through more research; research into adopting new modes of technology into the sector and research into niche markets to facilitate expansion in agricultural trade.  Government will continue to strenghtn our human resource capacity in order to give Barbados the opportunity to be effective and competitive in our knowledge based societies.  

In closing I want to publicly acknowledge and recognize the sterling efforts of this organization in the development of regional agriculture. CaFAN is a regional network which has a membership base spanning the entire region. The network has been seeking to increase the level of communication, the exchange and ideas, experiences and resource information amongst its members. Since its establishment in 2004, the network has sought to raise awareness, improve advocacy and networking among farmers to influence decisions on strategic issues affecting regional agriculture. I would like to encourage CaFAN to keep up the good work.

 

I hope that what I have said here this evening will motivate you into finding meaningful solutions to overcome the challenges that persist in facilitating regional and extra regional trade. I wish you a successful workshop and urge you to produce an action plan that is pragmatic.

 

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen, please enjoy the remainder of your evening.

 

 
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