October 14, 2005

Banana farmers to stage protest

Soon banana farmers will be staging a protest on the streets of capital Kingstown to put pressure on Government to give strong representation at the negotiation table when faced with the European Commission on the issue of bananas.

After staging a successful protest in St.Lucia on Friday, September 30, the Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA) has decided to do likewise and mobilize its forces in St.Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.{{more}}

“We need to make our voices be heard. We need to make the European delegation in Barbados stay quite in Barbados and hear Vincentian farmers making noise,” said Renwick Rose, to some 200 plus banana farmers at the St.Vincent and the Grenadines National Fair Trade Organization 5th General Assembly at the Kingstown Methodist Church Hall On Thursday October 6, 2005.

Currently, the Banana industry is facing a grave situation where the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a recent ruling announced that a new EU tariff on imported bananas is illegal, siding with nine Latin American countries including Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela.

The Latin American countries are claiming that the European Commission’s proposal to introduce from January 1, 2006, a single tariff of 230 euros (US$279)/ tonne on bananas to replace the current import quota system would seriously limit their ability to export the fruit.

Rose told the gathering the problem is not just tariffs, it also embodies the removal of the quota on Latin American bananas. He said this would spell more trouble for local banana farmers since the Latin American countries will be producing millions of acreage of bananas at far cheaper rates.

“We will still have market access, (but) the price will not be profitable for us and that is what we have to battle against,” Rose emphasized.

“We have to continue with our mobilization and the lobbying. We have to continue to press our government. We appreciate what efforts they are doing but we always have to say that we ain’t satisfied enough.

Don’t make them be able to sit down and clap their chest and say ‘we have done plenty for you,’ it ain’t enough. We still have a battle we have to go forward, forward all the time,” said Rose.

He appealed to the farmers to pay attention to their organizational levels and development.

Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson, EU commissioner for external trade, for the umpteenth time came in for heavy criticism from Rose.

“We must be able to have the confidence to tell Peter Mandelson or whoever is commissioner that when we stand up and talk about preferential access we ain’t come with no ‘sorry for poor,’ begging story. We talking about fairness and justice in international relations and international trade. That’s all we want,” said Rose.

Rose said Mandelson and others are forgetting that the development and monetary aid that they are claiming they gave to the Caribbean came from “the sweat and toil of our people from slavery right down to colonialism”. He said while the Jews were given reparation for the crimes committed against their foreparents “nobody ever apologized for slavery so when people talk ’bout we want we grandfather back pay we could afford to say those things and we must not be afraid to say them”.

Rose asked farmers to look at their own attitudes to new ideas, to progress and to development.

“That in my mind is one of our stumbling blocks,” he explained.