Monday, November 3, 2008

Jamaica's banana future looks bleak

Published: Monday 3, 2008

Prime Minister Bruce Golding painted a bleak picture of the future of the banana industry last Tuesday, during a sitting of the House of Representatives.

"What we need to do is to move with the land resources we have, the infrastructure that is there to see how we can diversify," Golding told the House.

Already, the chief producers of banana for export have pulled out of production. The straw that broke the camel's back was Tropical Storm Gustav, which destroyed a vast percentage of banana crops in eastern Jamaica.

Massive losses

Jamaica Producers, in announcing the end of its participation in banana export, cited massive losses as a result of several hurricanes in the last four years. The company said it would now concentrate on growing crops such as cassava and breadfruit.

Golding said small farmers may still feel the need to remain in bananas but has advised against it.

"While we don't prevent people from entering upon any kind of enterprise that they want, we have to tell them in clear, unemotional terms that the banana situation is moving against us. It is now like swimming against the tide," Golding said.

Better quality life

"What we want to do is to secure an orderly disengagement, but a new engagement into something possible and that can offer a better quality of life for the farmers that are involved," he added

Caribbean and other countries in the 77-nation African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group are fighting to have its bananas enter European markets at a preferential rate.

Under a regime that came into effect two and a half years ago, the ACP group of countries can export up to 775,000 tonnes of bananas annual to the EU duty-free. Other exporters have to pay a tariff of €176 a tonne. However, a WTO dispute panel this year, on a complaint by Ecuador, ruled that the EU quota tariff was unfair and incompatible with its regime.

Import tariffs

The EU has said it would accept a WTO proposal for the European trade bloc to reduce banana import tariffs from €176 per tonne to €116 by year 2015. However, according to Golding, banana producers here would still not be able to compete even with that protection.

"We have been buying time but we are not going to be able to sustain those challenges indefinitely. The €176 per tonne is not going to last," the prime minister said.

Golding told the House that leaving banana should not become a political issue.

"This is not a issue that needs to offer the political podium as if there is any choice and there is any option because there is none," the prime minister said.

Daraine Luton
Jamaica Gleaner

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