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PM: Region in danger

■ Kim Boodram

TRINIDAD and Tobago is to work heavily with Guyana in leading Caricom's food security efforts, with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley warning yesterday that the region was 'in great danger of not being able to feed ourselves in the near future'.

Rowley and Guyana's President, Dr Irfaan Ali, have announced urgent collaborative efforts to reposition Caricom towards food and energy sustainability, as global supplies and trade continue to be affected and threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia/ Ukraine war.

Both countries have signed the 'Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and Co-operative Republic of Guyana Food Development Plan', and Rowley said action is being taken on elements of the plan and includes a technical task force.

T&T and Guyana will begin its agricultural partnership right away with programmes including help for this country's ailing coconut industry.

The Prime Minister and Ali, who is here on a five-day state visit, were speaking at a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in Port of Spain.

Both emphasised that discussions on the urgency of operationalising the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), as a regional development tool, were intensified with the onset of the pandemic and eastern war.

Rowley said in recent months, the threat to Caricom of not being able to access food 'had come forcefully home' and 'our model was to feed the population on imported food'. However, the region was vulnerable if it did not have the money to buy food or if food was not available, he said.

Effectively manifesting collaborative efforts in agriculture and energy, among other industries, hinged heavily on the region's ability to exchange goods and services, including human resources, they said.

The realisation of the CSME, which T&T recommitted to with the St Ann's accord in 2018, currently faces various blockades including non-tariff barriers and differing legislative policies as to the movement of Caricom nationals.

Caricom has identified that the region's dependence on imported goods, both finished and raw materials that support some manufacturing, has increased its vulnerability to food shortages and limits access to goods.

'We do not have time'

Rowley yesterday showed documents among which was a memorandum of understanding between T&T and Guyana, committing to collaboration in agriculture.

The PM said this country's participation was a continuation of previous discussions and there had been significant developments.

T&T will be receiving 5,000 coconut saplings, as pests and disease continue to decimate local plantations, Rowley said, adding that Guyana will also send 'shade houses' to T&T, for use in vegetable production.

Rowley said T&T had been 'out front' on the matter of food security, saying there was a 'fierce urgency to get it done now' as 'we do not have time'.

The region's vulnerability to climate change was also urgent, Rowley and Ali said.

Rowley referred to climate phenomena occurring worldwide, including the drying-up of major rivers in Europe and the United States and wildfires in England.

'Our future looks like that,' he said.

He said experts have warned the world could see what happened in 2020 and 2021 'happen again and again' and stated: 'The meal we have now must be based on eating what we produce and growing what we eat.'

Rowley related some challenges he faced as a former agriculture minister with respect to the export of pork from Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica and these non-tariff barriers that prevented that.

He said pork production in T&T shrunk because technical people in Jamaica had cited swine flu as a reason to prevent pork from Trinidad to that country.

He said likewise, South American countries faced challenges with export of their meat because of foot and mouth disease.

The Prime Minister said there are non-tariff barriers that exist in Caricom that are impediments to production in the region and it invites supply from outside the region.

He said a Caricom Single Market and Economy means you should have goods, people and financing going to the market unimpeded.

-with reporting by Anna Ramdass

AGRICULTURAL PARTNERSHIP: Guyanese President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, left, and T&T Prime Minister Keith Rowley answer questions from members of the media during a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's, following bilateral discussions yesterday. Ali is in T&T for a five-day state visit. -Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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