The Government of Jamaica and the European Union (EU) have signed a $240.7 million (€2.25 million) agreement to implement a Capacity Building Project under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
The EPA is a trade agreement between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).
Finance and Planning Minister, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips; Head of the EU Delegation to Jamaica, Belize, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Cayman Islands, Her Excellency Ambassador Paola Amadei; and Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) Director General, Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson, signed copies of the agreement on Tuesday December 11, during a ceremony at the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ).
The Capacity Building Project is intended to create an enabling environment to support increased compliance of Jamaican agriculture and agribusiness exports, with international quality standards, to EU and other markets.
This will be achieved by strengthening the capacity of facilities, which support the export industry, in order to promote export competitiveness and food security, as outlined in the National Export Strategy (NES), and the country’s National Development Plan, Vision 2030 Jamaica, being administered by the PIOJ.
Speaking at the signing, Dr. Hutchinson said the project is slated to get underway this month with the commencement of an initial 18-month undertaking for which €600,000 has been earmarked. This phase is slated to run until May 2014.
Public sector facilities which have been identified to benefit include the BSJ’s chemistry and microbiology laboratory, and a similar facility at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Veterinary Services Division; the plant virology and pathology laboratories at the Bodles Agricultural Research Station; as well as the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) pesticides research laboratory.
The work to be undertaken will facilitate increased capacity for product testing and certification for compliance with international standards; increased awareness of international standards and technical requirements in the public sector; and promote sensitization of and dialogue with the private sector on technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary issues.
Dr. Hutchinson also advised that the government has submitted a second phase of the capacity building project to the EU for consideration. He said this phase, which is valued at €5 million, and is expected to be approved in 2013, will focus on further improvements to public laboratories as well as providing assistance to private sector stakeholders, in particular small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs).
In his remarks, Dr. Phillips, who was the guest speaker, said the capacity building support would, among other things, assist to significantly reduce Jamaica’s US$1 billion food import bill, since “a significant share of this can be produced locally”.
“It (increased local production) is necessary, not only to enhance growth, but it is necessary for food security in this particularly challenging period,” Dr. Phillips said.
Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister, Hon. Anthony Hylton, who also addressed the ceremony, underscored the importance that the administration attaches to safeguarding the health and safety of the nation’s citizens as well as protecting and facilitating activities that enhance the country’s food export sector.
“The government has initiated a comprehensive range of activities spanning many ministries in an effort to ensure that our food safety systems are on par with international standards and best practices,” he informed.
Mr. Hylton said the Ministry, through the BSJ, has a pivotal role to play in the national effort to improve Jamaica’s food safety systems, pointing out that “already, the Bureau is the focal point in the nation’s preparation to achieve compliance with the new United States Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)”.
Additionally, Mr. Hylton said the Bureau is in the process of accrediting its food safety laboratories to the IS0 17025 standard, in order to better serve the industry and guarantee an improved suite of testing services.
In his remarks, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, said the project’s implementation is demonstrative of the administration’s “commitment to improving the agriculture sector and, by extension, food security and the livelihoods of all Jamaicans”.
Ambassador Amadei described the government support for the project as a commitment to making its implementation a success.