Front Page
June 11, 2004


While the World Trade Organization(WTO) preaches the gospel of trade liberalization as the saviour of the 21st century, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Tuesday showed the world how unfair the system really is.
Addressing delegates at the International Banana Conference staged at the Methodist Church Hall on Tuesday, Dr. Gonsalves highlighted the injustices practised by those who advocate vociferously for liberalised trade. {{more}}He charged that as a result of the practices of major banana producers in Latin America Caribbean banana stakeholders are now feeling the brunt of the trade imbalance.
In a very emotional speech, the Prime Minister told the delegates that the banana industry is witnessing a race to the bottom in both prices, social and environmental conditions. The delegates were drawn from European and Caribbean Governments, regional and international institutions, the marketing agencies and producer organizations.
The Prime Minister said the inequality was created as a result of large private companies such as Dole, Chiquita, Del Monte, the Irish Fyffes and the Ecuadorian Grupo Noboa buying bananas from cheap labour countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, West Africa (Ivory Coast and Cameroon) and Indonesia (Kalimantan).
He explained that, while these companies prospered, over 500,000 plantation workers from the Philippines, the Caribbean Basin, South America, West Africa and South East Asia have paid and continue to pay “the lion’s share of the price of the instability in the industry”.
He stopped just short of saying the large banana companies, with the backing of the WTO keep the workers in slavery. But the conditions and the lowly paid wage factors pointed out by him were enough to paint a grim picture of slavery.
“Downward pressure on wages to compete with lowest wage sources means that most workers now earn below a living wage, especially in Ecuador, the Guatemalan Pacific Coast and Nicaragua. As wages fail to keep up with the cost of living,” he continued “under-age workers have become increasingly common, forcing school-age children to seek work on plantations, whilst persecution of independent plantation workers’ union and repression of their attempts to organise and negotiate collective agreements are persisting.
“That is the price of the trade liberalisation, the liberalised market the new God which is descended upon us,” the Prime Minister emphasized.
In a clear effort to appeal to friendly interests in Europe he declared: “Social democrats in Europe, and the good people of Europe in the tradition of William Wilberforce should grasp the point.”
The mentioned previous injustices in the banana industry, along with the standards now demanded by markets and the impending end to the tariff quota system have placed considerable pressure on small scale farmers such as the Caribbean producers.
Dr. Gonsalves told the conference that while the Windwards Islands may not have the muscle or weapons of mass destruction, instead they had voices that can be heard.
The Prime Minister stated that he did not think a crisis exists in the banana industry since, in his view, “a crisis only arises when the principals are innocent of the extent of the condition and have no clear idea as to the way out of the extant difficulties.”
While Dr. Gonsalves appealed to the Caribbean delegates to put their ideas together collectively for meaningful action, he used the opportunity to put before his “European friends” another challenge.
He questioned whether Europe had “given consideration to the fact that since conquest and settlement in the Caribbean, banana cultivation has been the most environmentally damaging of all commercial crops.”
He questioned whether since Europe was demanding EUREP standards for safety, health and the best environmental practices should they not “partner with us now to correct the environmental degradation?
He asked: “Should we bear this cost alone in this new era at the very moment that EUREPGAP standards are being demanded?”
That was one of the questions which the Prime Minister expressed may be answered by the conference, which ended yesterday.