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Jamaica summit to decide on CARICOM rice tariff
BARBADOS has reportedly become embroiled in a new rice dispute threatening to boil over in the Caribbean Recent news out of Georgetown, Guyana said a dispute over rice imports pitting three rice-growing countries of the Caribbean against other nearby island nations was to be decided at a meeting of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders next month in Jamaica.
The trio of rice–growing countries involved are Guyana, Suriname and Belize, while the nearby islands mentioned include Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua.
The report said rice producers in the 15-member Caribbean Community – Guyana, Suriname and Belize – wanted the regional bloc to increase a tariff on imported rice from the current 25 per cent to 40 per cent in an effort to save their ailing rice industries.
Their argument was that cheaper imports from Asia and the United States (US) were driving their growers out of business.
However, it was noted that islands including Barbados, Jamaica, and Antigua were opposing the request, saying any increase in the duty would only hike prices for consumers.
Trade and economy ministers couldn’t agree on the issue at a two-day meeting in Guyana recently, and they have decided to discuss it further at next month’s summit in Jamaica.
That’s according to Clement Rohee, Guyana’s Foreign Trade and International Co-operation Minister.
The Caribbean summit’s plenary session is to be held in Montego Bay from July 2 to 5.
“It is going to the leaders to decide,” Rohee said. “The heads are getting involved to have a political resolution to this problem. It is something that has to be discussed at the highest level.”
The three rice–growing countries are particularly annoyed with Jamaica for buying as much as 65 000 tons of rice from the US annually.
Other countries buy smaller amounts from Thailand, Vietnam and India.
The rice producers argue that American subsidies and export credits mean US rice can reach the Caribbean market at just over US$200 per ton.
Benny Sankar, president of the Caribbean Rice Producers Association, said higher costs of production in the Caribbean require higher tariffs to protect growers.
“We can’t compete. The only way is for the duty to be increased to 40 per cent,” he said.
CARICOM can set tariffs for member states but Rohee said officials were considering whether such an increase in tariffs would comply with current rules of the Geneva–based World Trade Organisation.
Caribbean rice growers also said they were being driven out of the once–lucrative European market.
The European Union has in the last two years implemented the Everything But Arms Initiative, opening its doors to additional imports from nearly 50 of the world’s poorest countries free of duties and making it more difficult for more Caribbean rice to compete.
MGR Archive 12.6.2003
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