Intraregional trade is a critical component of the OECS integration process. Significant strides have been made over the years to secure the foundation for a thriving common market – resulting in the successful establishment of the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union in January 2011.
This larger market and the free circulation of goods, people and capital, promises greater trade, business, and economic opportunities.
Director-General of the OECS Dr Didacus Jules cautioned, however, that despite this arrangement and the many successes to date, we must be ever mindful of underlying threads of insularity that seek to unravel the very fabric of the integration movement.
A recent article highlighting the fruits of a bilateral agri-export agreement between the OECS Member States of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was met with the insular and protectionist sentiment in some sectors.
This success story sought to report on the improved trade among the OECS Member States, which – especially as it relates to the food import bill – is still quite low when compared to trade with on-OECS countries.
Dr Jules lamented some of the insular reactions to what should be an occasion for celebration.
“None of the OECS Member States by themselves can meet their own or the region’s food security needs. What we should lament is our continued dependence on the importation of substandard meat and poultry from extra-regional sources that cost our governments millions of US dollars,” Jules said.
In 2017, imports of meat and poultry products from the US and Canada for only five OECS Member States exceeded USD$63 million dollars.
“Increasing Intra-OECS trade is not a one-sided matter. We are building partnerships so that the Member States can focus on areas of comparative advantage to build a dynamic, sustainable internal market of healthy organic food.
“All of our Ministers of Agriculture are working closely to boost production and create stronger value chains in all Member States,” Jules added.
In addressing the bilateral agreement between Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Jules noted that the islands have built strong exchanges over the years, helping each other with reciprocal suppliers of planting material in root vegetables and spices.
The OECS’ Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme in Canada also provides further opportunities for deepened collaboration in agriculture among the Member States.
“The OECS agricultural worker employment programme in Canada recently secured almost 200 jobs on high tech cannabis farms. The Gonsalves administration, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has been working with the OECS Commission and the Canadian employers to design a tertiary skills-training programme that would result in higher wages for the workers.
“St. Vincent and the Grenadines is offering this training free of cost to workers from the other OECS Member States, including Grenada.
“It is all about working together, to progress together, with no one left behind.”
Extra-regional Trade: The reality of the region’s unsustainable food-import bill
Despite the proximity of Caribbean countries to the large markets of the United States and Canada, local exporters face significant challenges with market competitiveness due to the small size of the countries and the high production costs – especially as it relates to transportation. As a result, trade with these countries tends to be heavily focused on imports.
Intra-regional Trade: The Example of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines
An objective review of the total intraregional food imports and exports for Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2008 and 2012, respectively, demonstrates the clear benefits of the arrangement and highlights opportunities for improved trade in the sector.
In 2008, the food import bill for Grenada was USD$33,888,070. Of this figure, only 5 per cent was imported from the OECS – mainly from the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia – valued at USD$1,1816,230.
Grenada’s total food exports for the same period totalled USD$4,329,330, of which 41 per cent were destined to other OECS territories – namely Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – valued at USD$1,770,410.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
In 2012, the food import bill for St. Vincent and the Grenadines was USD$31,755,370. Of this figure, only 6 per cent was imported from the OECS – mainly from the islands of Grenada, Saint Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis – valued at USD$2,550,410.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ food exports for the same period totaled USD$8,253,260, 61 percent of which were destined to other OECS territories – namely Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis – valued at USD$5,013,290.
Increased intraregional agricultural trade can significantly reduce the region’s multimillion-dollar annual food import bill as well as improving nutrition for the local population and decreasing poverty through the creation of jobs.
Improved intraregional trade is, therefore, a priority for the region and should be embraced by governments, the private sector and citizens.
The diversification of products exported by the region, and the development of strategies that focus on competitive advantage and specialized knowledge, are also needed to enhance our trade capacity and to ensure sustainable development nationally and as a region.
To this end, the OECS Commission provides technical assistance to companies in the Member States to enable them to increase their exports. The Commission also works with governments and public sector agencies to make Eastern Caribbean businesses more competitive.