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Defending banana, boosting the non-banana sector

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Banana Industry officials, farmers organizations and the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have agreed to establish a committee to initiate projects for the development of the non-banana agricultural sector in the Windward Islands.

This was one of the decisions to emerge from a joint meeting of stakeholders in the Windward Islands hosted by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Monday, January 9, 2006. {{more}} The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Gonsalves who was accompanied by the Ministers of Trade, Agriculture and Rural Transformation, was held at the request of the Windward Islands Banana Marketing and Exporting Company (WIBDECO) to discuss the future of the Industry in light of the implementation of the new European banana import regime as of January 1, 2006.

WIBDECO’s Chairman, Mr. Eustace Monrose of St. Lucia and Chief Executive Officer Mr. Bernard Cornibert both attended the meeting as did officials from the Ministries of Agriculture and Finance, the Banana Growers Association, the private sector (Chamber of Commerce and ECGC), the Commercial Technical Allied Workers Union, the Input Warehouse and Irrigation Unit. WINFA was represented by a four-person delegation of Mrs. Marcella Harris of Dominica (WINFA president), Messrs. Cornelius Lynch (St. Lucia), Amos Wiltshire (Dominica) and WINFA Co-ordinator Renwick Rose.

Following opening remarks from Prime Minister Gonsalves setting out the context of the meeting, WIBDECO CEO Mr. Cornibert outlined the content of the new banana regime and its implications for the banana industry in the islands. He told the gathering that though the new regulations officially come into force on January 1 this year, for practical purposes the months of January and February will be considered a transition period with the old regime still being in effect. As of March 1, however, Mr. Cornibert explained, there will be a combination of import licences and what is called First-come First-served.

Under this new arrangement the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) banana exporters are granted a duty-free quota of 775,000 tonnes per year. But ACP exports are estimated to be between 940,000 and 960,000 tonnes for the year, an excess of 165,000-185,000 tonnes for about 20 percent of the quota. Duty at the rate of 176 euros per tonne, the new tariff, will have to be paid on this. Hence for the Windwards, the tax of EC$10.50 per box will have to be paid on a percentage of exports. This can cripple the industry.

After discussions it was decided that Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves should step up lobbying efforts, beginning with a letter to the European Commission and to European Heads of Government. He is also to write ACP leaders seeking their support and solidarity.

But the meeting did not confine itself to matters concerning import arrangements only.

Focus was put on developing initiatives to boost agricultural diversification, to promote agro-processing and to supplement the income of farmers. Thus WIBDECO has agreed to finance a consultancy study on non-banana exports and agro-processing, linking these to the current banana infrastructure.

To ensure that these matters are addressed as a matter of urgency, a Committee made up of one representative from each of the Windward Island governments, two farmers representatives, two from the private sector and one each from WIBDECO and the OECS secretariat, has been established and is to meet soon.

Clearly the banana industry in the islands is fighting back and broadening its scope in order to stay in business.

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