Following on the heels of an announcement that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders are moving to have intra-regional trade barriers removed, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said his government has committed not to let artificial phytosanitary barriers prevent trade in all agricultural products.
However, he warned that there will be pushback in his home country.
The Prime Minister made the comments during a press conference on Sunday at State House, Georgetown, alongside Guyana President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali. Before the conference, the foreign Ministers of both countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for cooperation on energy and other matters.
“We expect that there will be some pushback to what we are saying because those who are comfortable with what is happening now will not be happy to hear that we intend to change it to something else…”
He argued that this change would be beneficial to those vested interests, and that his government will let them know that. Most of all, Dr. Rowley said, to change the prevailing circumstances for the better, there must be a willingness to challenge the status quo.
And while the Trinidad government has committed to the effort to remove trade barriers, the PM said, “Look very carefully at what is going to be said, and who is going to be saying it, and categorise them either in defense of the status quo or in support of the change that we require to put us in a better position.”
He said if Trinidad is not observed to be making the necessary changes to remove the barriers to trade, “then you know that we are failing…”
Leaders in Guyana’s private sector had urged Guyana not to sign the MoU with Trinidad unless the barriers are removed.
Following Trinidad’s commitment to work toward removing the barriers, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and the Private Sector Commission (PSC) urged the private sector representatives in Trinidad to support their government.
According to an outcome statement from the government of Guyana after the Regional Agri-Investment forum, the barriers are the biggest inhibitors to the development of agri-food systems and the region’s plan to lower its food import bill by 25% by 2025. It said the group recommended the establishment of a Special committee to immediately prepare proposals, with time-bound deadline, for eliminating such barriers. Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley will be responsible for convening this Committee, Dr. Ali told reporters on Sunday, and its proposals for implementation will be presented at a Special Meeting of Heads of Government in the third quarter of 2022.
The effort will go a long way to help Guyana, a rapidly growing oil producer, diversify its economy, allowing it to build resilience against oil price shocks and escape the dreaded Dutch Disease.