CARICOM Agrees to Measures to Address Rising Food Prices


CARICOM leaders have agreed to the establishment of a technical team to review a set of commodities, which have a significant weight in the consumer price index, and the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) will make a decision on the reduction or removal of the Common External Tariff (CET) from these commodities as early as January 31, 2008.
These commodities must not be significantly produced or have a close substitute in the region, and should attract a CET.
The move is one of the measures to come out of the 12th special meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government held last Friday (Dec. 7) in Georgetown, Guyana, which was convened to address the issue of poverty and the escalating food prices across the 15-member CARICOM grouping.
The conference looked at the factors impacting on the cost of living for Caribbean nationals, including high prices in the global economy, which are being fueled by rising oil process; climate change, which has disrupted food supplies from the main producing countries; increasing demand by some emerging economies as a result of massive urbanization and industrialization; the shift in agricultural production from food to bio-fuels; increased cost in ocean freight resulting from higher oil prices; and more recently, the sharp depreciation of the United States dollar.
After a full day of deliberations, the conference of leaders concluded that these mitigating factors were beyond the control of the region, however in the interest of stability of the region’s economies and societies, the community and national governments must pursue measures that are within their reach and which could be taken without doing injury to the economies.
The conference further decided that an expert CARICOM team on sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures will be established immediately to undertake rapid assessment of the readiness of member states to export selected food items intra-regionally.
While these community measures are being introduced, member states will continue to implement national measures with a view to containing prices without compromising macro-economic stability. In this regard, information sharing among member states will be critical to the process, the official conference statement said.
The statement, which was delivered by Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, who had requested the special meeting, said that member states will also intensify social interventions targeting the most vulnerable groups, including children, as a feasible short-term measure to mitigate the negative impact of high food prices.
With respect to food production, the Heads of Government indicated recognition of the challenges of meeting the requirements for land to expand agriculture production and as such, expressed appreciation and support for the generous offer by the government of Guyana to grant member states, access to land for the pursuit of agricultural production, including agro-processing.
The conference also recommended that efforts be made to increase the regional content in food consumption, with due consideration for the concept of branding and marketing of Caribbean products, while immediate action is taken to realize the transformation of the region’s agriculture sector.
In acknowledgment of the impact of rising energy costs fueling increase in prices, the leaders pledged to intensify efforts aimed at developing renewable energy, while work already underway to increase the efficiency of regional transformation, will be intensified. Important in this regard, the heads noted, is the involvement of the private sector and other social partners in the process of curtailing inflationary pressures.
Meanwhile, the conference of Heads of Government has mandated that further research and analysis be done on the issue of rising cost of living and poverty in member states. This will be accompanied by a major consumer public education campaign to be undertaken in order to remind the people of the region to “shop smart, buy regional, eat healthy, and conserve energy and save”. Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who has lead CARICOM responsibility for external negotiations, headed Jamaica’s delegation to the meeting, which included Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Karl Samuda; Ambassadors Lorne Mcdonnogh and Peter Black and technical officers.
The meeting also examined the status of negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states and the European Union (EU).

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