As part of his argument for the importation of cheaper Guyanese rice to Belize, importer Jack Charles and his advisors argue that their venture is buttressed by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the document establishing the Caribbean Community. However, Government disagrees, as explained by Dr. Leroy Almendarez who acts as Director General of Foreign Trade. He spoke to certain articles in the Treaty on trade restrictions under the Caricom Single Market and Economy or CSME which provides for freedom of movement of goods and people in the Caribbean:
Dr. Leroy Almendarez, Director General of Foreign Trade: I’m not aware what is owed right now, but in the past we’ve had difficulties where they owed a long period of time. I’m aware that the BMDC has actually said that they will pay them on the 22nd if I’m not mistaken, of this month. So what is happening down there is not out of the ordinary. They have been paid, and you will recall before we came to the ministry you always had a frantic call on the rice industry down south, but we’ve been trying our leveled best to help the farmers down south.
Dr. Leroy Almendarez, Director General of Foreign Trade: Grenada has tried to get honey into Trinidad for the longest time. Grenada’s honey is still not into Trinidad because they are talking about quality and standards and etcetera. We have tried to get out poultry into Trinidad, we have tried to get some of our other products into other markets within CARICOM and they’re still not there. There’s one other aspect that still has to be mentioned here, any product, if a product enters a market or if a product is highly subsidized, subsidy that violates a certain threshold is illegal. For example, under the WTO, under this revised treaty it says that there is a threshold of subsidy of 12%. If any commodity or product is subsidized more than 10%, this is what happens, the importing market, that market can file a complaint even before we know it’s more than 10%. If there is suspicion that it is, you file a complaint to the secretary general, after 30 days you are allowed to communicate, in this case it will be Belize and Guyana. You’re allowed to discuss, if there is no resolution to it then it goes to the secretary general after 120 days or so. Four more months before a response is given. It simply means that under Article 1 17 for example where it talks about Agriculture Subsidy, it is a violation. We do not know the true cost of production and these are the things that we’re looking at, we have to look at these things. It does not give us a black eye and CARICOM does not give us a black eye under the WTO.
For now, Jack Charles’ three containers with 75 thousannd tonnes of rice are still sitting at the Big Creek Port with another 7 containers reportedly expected to arrive in another two weeks. For his part, Agriculture Ministry CEO, Jose Alpuche said the question is about whether the importation of rice presents unfair competition given that Guyanese rice is subsidized and ours is not so it would represent an unfair trading advantage.