Prolonged controversy over Guyana’s rice exports to Jamaica appears to have arrived at a positive juncture, at least for the time being with the announcement earlier this week that local rice exports to Jamaica will increase to 55,000 tonnes this year.
The announcement, made by the Ministry of Agriculture following a visit to Jamaica by Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud where he met Jamaican Commerce Minister Carl Samuda and local rice importers means that Guyana has pushed its rice exports to the sister Caricom state up by almost 12,000 tonnes from the 44,882 tonnes exported to that country in 2010.
A release issued by the Ministry of Agriculture in the wake of the Jamaica meeting, however, hinted that local rice exporters deemed by importers in Kingston to be unreliable suppliers are likely to come under closer scrutiny by the Ministry of Agriculture as it seeks to remove hindrances to the protection of its largest Caricom market. According to the release the objectives of the meeting included ensuring “that Guyana improves its access to the Jamaica market and at the same time to reduce the delays and other related issues of the rice trade.” Accordingly, delinquent exporters may incur official displeasure, since, according to the release, it has now been agreed that the ministry along with the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) will “take the specific cases of unreliability of supply and ‘deal’ with those companies as provided by the laws of Guyana.”
Differences between the two countries arising out of doubts expressed by Jamaica over Guyana’s ability to satisfy its rice market have been ongoing for several years and have seen in meetings between officials of the two countries in an effort to resolve the issue. During a visit to Jamaica in 2007 by Persaud, the two sides agreed to a verification visit here by Jamaica’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Investments Michael Stern for a first-hand look at of Guyana’s rice-exporting capabilities.
Guyana to has had its concerns about the security of its rice market in Jamaica and during his 2007 visit to Kingston, Persaud declared that the potential for increased rice exports from Guyana to Jamaica could be hampered by Jamaica’s importation of subsidized rice from Louisiana in the United States which imports were proceeding without the application of the Common External Tariff (CET). At the time Persaud said that from Guyana’s perspective there was no need for Jamaica to source rice from outside the region and that difficulties over trading arrangements between the two countries should have been brought to the attention of the Government of Guyana. Specifically, Persaud expressed concern over the fact the Jamaica’s rice imports from the United States were proceeding without any formal request for a waiver of the CET, though Guyana may well have had difficulty in agreeing to such a request since rice imported from the United States was being subsidized by more than 60 per cent.
At last week’s meeting in Kingston, Jamaican officials also raised the issue of price hikes for rice imported from Jamaica, a phenomenon which Guyana has pointed out was due to production shortfalls resulting from El Nino weather phenomenon and the vagaries of the international market.
Jamaica has repeatedly restated its commitment to strengthening intra-regional trade by increasing the volume of its rice supplies from Guyana and last year agreed to a 10 per cent hike in the price of rice imported from Guyana. Guyana’s major rice markets include Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and some European Community countries.
News of the increase in Guyana’s rice exports to Jamaica comes in the wake of reports from local farmers that the Caricom market is increasingly being taken seriously. Both farmers and Agriculture Ministry officials concede, however, that efforts to render the rice industry more internationally competitive pose significant challenges including the need to attract more lending from commercial banks and shortage of investment in rice-related businesses including packaging and labelling.
The need for increased investment in the sector apart, weather conditions have also been impacting negatively on local rice production. During the last quarter of last year Guyana’s rice output declined by more than 70 per cent though solid production performances earlier in the year ensured that the industry recorded overall production of 360,000 tonnes for the year and record exports of 320,000 tonnes, an accomplishment which the Agriculture Ministry attributed to “the input of farmers and technical and extension services, inclusive of water management by the Ministry of Agriculture, despite the disruptions caused by climate change.” While Guyana has reportedly received requests to supply rice to other countries, exports have had to be reduced to ensure that there are adequate quantities to supply the local market. According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Commodity Market Update the volume of rice exported to Caricom markets decreased by 4.92% during the final quarter of last year while rice exports to Europe dipped by 26.36% in December 2010 compared with the same period in the previous year.