February 4, 2005
We must give bananas our best shot

It seems as though where bananas are concerned, there is little or no peace for us in these normally tranquil islands.

For over a dozen years now the battle to maintain our banana industry has occupied time and stretched the resources of farmers, farmers organizations, workers and their unions, banana companies and associations, governments and regional institutions throughout the Caribbean. It has brought many a battle – weary participant to near fatigue, yet the protracted struggle continues.{{more}}

2005 is in many ways a momentous one for Caribbean people. It is the year of intense negotiations over trade agreements which will affect us as never before. These tiny islands are expected to conclude talks with the rest of the hemisphere to forge a gigantic 800-million-strong Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) even as we hammer out agreements with the 25-member European Union(EU), the largest trade bloc in the world for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). All this, while the Caribbean nations themselves try to solidify into an integrated Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

These present huge challenges in every form to the region. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the banana industry. With time ticking out on our current preferential arrangements (our quota system will end on December 31st, 2005), the banana-exporting countries of the region are in a desperate bid to stave off the worst, to create breathing space as we reshape and restructure our production systems and economies. Intensive lobbying is continuing- engaging the new EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in Guyana, contacts with Latin American nations, talks between regional negotiators and their European counter parts, for instance.

Prime Minister Gonsalves has followed this up by utilizing his visit to Ecuador and Colombia as head of a CARICOM lobbying mission to get Port of Spain as headquarters of the FTAA by further making common ground with Ecuador to press for a hold in the banana regime changeover while negotiations continue as to the nature of the new one. He has invited the Ecuadorians here for further talks and we can only await them with fingers crossed.

All this is well and good but there is another aspect to it as well. That aspect concerns the most important ones, production, productivity, management, governance of the industry. If we continue to lapse at that level, to fail to give it our very best shots, to produce top quality goods and provide top quality service, then we will have no product to sell and all the negotiation in the world will not be able to change that.

Sadly we are lacking in these areas and need to pay equal if not even more attention to rectifying our shortcomings.