Food security and trade in the Caribbean
FAO/Italy project helps CARICOM profit from liberalization
26 October 2007, Rome - Special assistance to Caribbean countries to promote food security and take advantage of trade liberalization while reaping the benefits of new trading opportunities is provided under an innovative FAO project funded by the Government of Italy.
Trade liberalization can harm small vulnerable economies such as the Caribbean (CARICOM/CARIFORUM) group of 15 countries which, with a population of 23 million, risk losing their traditional, protected markets and are generally ill-equipped to compete in the global market place.
The project, “Promoting CARICOM/CARIFORUM Food Security”, originally due to last four years, has just been extended for three years to 2010. Italy, which provided initial funding of approximately US$5 million, has agreed to provide an additional US$3.3 million for a second phase.
Trade accords and negotiations
Numerous workshops, seminars and field trials covering such areas as irrigation systems, pest control, post-harvest management, trade policy, and food standards were held under the project, with the objective of helping farmers, local technicians and operators improve and increase production and marketing of agricultural products.
One innovative aspect of the project was that it approached the question of enhancing food security not only from a production standpoint but also from the crucial perspective of trade policy and strategy.
Accordingly, local stakeholders at institutional level also received training on how to prepare for and participate in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, with special emphasis on access to markets and competitiveness. Specific guidance was offered on the World Trade Organization’s trade policies and on the likely effects of liberalization under the Doha round of trade talks.
An in-depth study resulting from the project, “Agricultural Trade Policy and Food Security in the Caribbean”, focussed on the specific trade policy problems arising from the CARICOM countries’ narrow-based economies, which rely heavily on three main commodities, sugar, bananas and rice.
Strategies for creating policy space allowing the diversification into new products, through special products and special safeguard mechanisms to be negotiated in the framework of WTO were set out in the study, which also covered the question of improving food safety and quality standards to ensure greater penetration of developed and other developing country markets.
The study was conducted under a partnership between the Italian National Institute of Agrarian Economy (INEA) and FAO.
Caribbean countries’ economies are particularly vulnerable as they are hampered by geographical isolation, limited farmland and environmental hazards such as hurricanes. All this has negative repercussions on food security.
Such problems are exacerbated by the limited size of the domestic market for the range of products offered by local farmers. Exports, together with tourism, represent the main source of income and employment in the CARICOM/CARIFORUM country group and are vital to its economic survival.
Trade liberalization will not translate into increased rural development and food security unless local producers and traders are helped to take advantage of the new opportunities it offers, the report noted.
The countries involved in the project are the CARICOM countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago), plus the Dominican Republic.
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