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It ain’t over yet

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“It ain’t over until the Fat lady sings”, is a common expression used to indicate that the game is not yet over even though one side may appear to be losing badly. It was never more appropriate than last year’s final of the ICC trophy in Britain when the West Indies rallied from an almost impossible position to win the trophy.{{more}}

Great lovers of cricket we might be and with a flair for drama too but we often fail to draw lessons and inspirations from moments like these. Courtney Browne and Bradshaw fighting back when all seemed lost is not just a moment for cricket, it tells us a lot about life and refusing to give up even if your back is against the wall. How many of us didn’t switch off that day, cursing our cricketers, only to return in hypocritical celebration later on as the good news broke?

So too have many of our own Caribbean people switched off from the banana business, condemning the industry and the farmers to a life of gloom and hopelessness. Those who are wont to toll the bells are doing so again, in light of Monday’s WTO Arbitration Panel ruling which came out in favour of Latin America producers. The “Banana Dead” song is even being revived and some go to ridiculous lengths accusing those of us with a positive spirit of “not telling farmers the truth.”

Well let me say it loud and clear, “THE FAT LADY AIN’T SING YET,” so no burial hymns please. All is not lost, far from it and it is imperative that our farmers in particular know this and recognize it. Yes, we are taking a battering, but we are still very much alive, bruised and hurting maybe, but just as the banana sucker heralds a new crop, we must be ready to take advantage of every opportunity to revitalize and revive.

Nor can we afford to underestimate the threat. Our banana future continues to face threats both from Latin American competition, the same multi-national-dominated threat which monopolises the entire North American market, has more than 60 per-cent of the European one and is clamouring for more. The same firms which exploit and de-grade tens of thousands of workers in Latin America, subjecting them to starvation wages, a life of misery, poor health from pesticide poisoning and unsafe working conditions and which destroys their environment.

Those workers are our friends, our brothers and sisters. Not only does every extra penny they earn or every extra dollar spent on improving their living conditions, represent an advance in living standards for them, but it is also a boost for our own competitiveness. A win-win situation which we must encourage.

There is a threat to the industry from the tariff-only system which the European Union stubbornly wishes to rush ahead and introduce from next January, cajoling us to agree so they can get banana out of the way by the time WTO meets in Hong Kong in December. WE are treated as expendables, “nuisance relatives” to whom one can dole out a few pennies in relief aid to assuage the real pain of starvation. It is this same expandable treatment that resulted first in our islands not being allowed before the previous WTO Disputes Panel and only allowed in at the last minute before the arbitrations.

This time we were allowed a presentation, but not a rebuttal, a privilege for the European Union and Latin Americans. Predictably, as the mandate had set out to provide guidance, it was not our cries that were heard but that of MFN (Most Favoured Nation) suppliers. IT is total market access for them which the WTO Arbitrators sought. And now the Panel is over, it is the EU and those MFN nations which must meet to hammer out a compromise. To hell with us! That is the message.

Well if no one else is seeking for our interest, we must. Our efforts at lobbying, negotiations, discussing must be redoubled, tripled, and multiplied ten times over. Note for instance that Venezuela, with whom we are on good terms, is associated with the Latin banana challenge, We must engage President Chavez here and try to win space, to persuade others to talk, to seek common ground. We must solidify our Caribbean position engage in deeper dialogue with Africa, consumer groups, trade unions, farmers and workers. Above all we must be as forceful in defence of our interests as Latin America or Europe is in defence of hers.

And we cannot afford complacency and mediocrity, in production nor in governance. Least of all can we falsely indulge in the luxury of political division on bananas. The market call for Fair Trade, we must work hand in hand to accomplish it. The farmers call for efficiency, accountability and transparency, so our structures must reflect these standards and principles.

This is no battle for the faint-hearted, for the squeamish or those “of little faith.” It is one battle we cannot afford to lose.

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