By Derren Joseph
August 11, 2010
In looking at the often controversial dynamics of our regional integration attempts, frequent comparisons are made with the European Union. After the fall of Rome, various egotistical régimes had made attempts to unite what is now “Western” Europe with varying degrees of success. Out of this, the first point to be made is that the present European Union with its many languages and cultures is the product of hundreds, if not thousands of years of history. So when we ask ourselves why our little Caribbean region seems to struggle when it comes to cooperation, part of the answer may lie in our relative socio-political-economic “youth”.
In considering the post World War II European unification process, it is interesting to observe how it was, to some extent, driven at the beginning by two core nations. On September 19th 1946, Sir Winston Churchill noted in his somewhat famous speech at Zurich University that: “What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European Family, or as much of it as we can…We must build a kind of United States of Europe. The first step in the recreation of the European Family must be a partnership between France and Germany.”
Just over a decade later in 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed which established a Common Market among the six original signatories – Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. Although by no means perfect, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which was outlined in the Treaty, sought to among other things, provide consumers with food at reasonable prices. The CAP is often explained as a “compromise” between France and Germany which gave German industry access to the large French market and French farmers access to the large German market. Everything grew from there to what we see today.
Now let us return to the modern day Caribbean basin and start with Guyana. To state the obvious, Guyana has extremely large tracts of fertile land. Two weeks ago, the Jamaica Observer carried a story on Guyana’s “Grow More” campaign and spoke to the Guyanese government’s intention to “make Guyana the main food supplier in the region.” The article quoted the Head of the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest) Geoff Da Silva who said that in 2008 the agency worked with 67 projects in agriculture, a figure which increased to 152 in 2009. Da Silva went on say that in 2010 Go-Invest expects some 230 projects to be executed in the sector. This projection, according to Da Silva, is guided by the fact that that agency has already aided 67 projects during the first quarter of 2010.
Earlier this year, Guyana signed an MOU with Brazil during the CARICOM / Brazil summit which should open up agricultural trade opportunities. Part of the strategy is to advance Guyana’s long-term plans for the development of Rupununi, as a major area for food production with rice, soya, sugar, fruits and vegetables. A press release spoke about investors who would be working from the Rupununi region to access the Brazilian market. Specifically, the MOU will also allow Rice Tech, a European company based in Brazil to commence operations in Guyana.
Finally, let us look at Trinidad. Data from the Central Statistical Office released in July by the Central Bank showed that headline inflation rose to 13.7% in June. This is up from 9.6% in May. The Central Bank commented that the rate was “driven by an unexpectedly large rise in domestic food prices.” The bank went on to say that the June rate represents “the highest year-on-year increase since October 2008, when it peaked at 15.4%.”
More specifically, food prices jumped sharply in June to 31.1%, up from 19.4% in May. The rise in June food prices is apparently the highest monthly rate of increase in well over a decade. It seems that we will remember 2010 as a challenging year for agriculture. First we had the severe droughts at the start of the year. Now we face severe flooding from the heavy rains.
On paper, therefore, the potential synergy with Guyana seems clear. One may even argue that it may be worth fast-tracking economic integration with Guyana while issues at the CARICOM level are resolved over a relatively longer time frame.
On the rather sensitive issue of the proposed Aluminum Smelter, last month the press reported certain rumors about it being relocated to Guyana. It may have been a rumor but it does appear to be an idea worth exploring.
My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in our country, as we embark upon the next chapter in our nation’s history.