May 20, 2005
Antigua PM responds to flour issue

One week after Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves charged in Parliament that Antigua was in breach of treaty obligations on the importation of flour from outside the sub-region, that country’s leader has responded.

According to Antigua Government Information Service release, May 6, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer sought to reassure Dr. Gonsalves that his country was “fully committed to the articles and principles enshrined in the Basseterre and Chaguramas Treaties”, and would take all necessary steps to investigate any reported breaches. {{more}}

Prime Minister Gonsalves had charged that Antigua and Barbuda’s importation of flour from Trinidad and Tobago was in contravention of Article 56 of the Basseterre Treaty establishing the OECS. Under that agreement, both St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada have licenses to export flour to their fellow OECS counterparts.

Prime Minister Spencer, last Thursday 5, convened an emergency meeting with representatives of flour importers in St. John’s to discuss the issue. At that forum, Spencer reportedly underscored his government’s obligations under the Treaties, and solicited the difficulties being experienced by the importers.

Prime Minister Spencer said the issues discussed and the information from the meeting relating to the perceived breaches show that the issues were not unrelated to the retail prices of flour on the local market.

He said that the meeting highlighted that East Caribbean Group of Companies (ECGC), of St. Vincent and the Grenadines controls approximately 65% of the Antigua and Barbuda flour market. It was also explained that local flour importers were forced to acquire products from Trinidad and Tobago primarily as a result of the impact of Hurricane Ivan on Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2004.

Prime Minister Spencer outlined that the matter was an intra-OECS one which could be resolved in an amicable manner and proposed an early meeting between his Minister of Finance and Economy, Dr. Errol Cort and ministerial representatives of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in order to bring closure to the issue.

He said that the upcoming meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) may be an opportunity for representatives to put together proposals which can be ratified when Heads meet for the OECS Authority Meeting in mid-June.

Prime Minister Spencer’s letter to Prime Minister Gonsalves was copied to the Secretary General of CARICOM and the Director General of the OECS.