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'Strengthening Agricultural Quarantine Services in the Caribbean' (SAQS), the 19-month sub-programme of the European Union/Caribbean Agriculture and Fisheries Programme (EU/CAFP) commenced Tuesday at Ocean View International Hotel, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, with a national consultation.
Trying desperately to grapple with the increasing trends of globalisation which continue to pressure leaders within the Caribbean, the scheme for CARIFORUM countries is being executed from the IICA office in Trinidad, since it began last September 2.
Officials said Tuesday the aim is to improve national capabilities to comply with required international trade standards and will include upgrading the institutional and technical capacities of national animal and plant quarantine health legislation and enhancing regional cooperation through Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA).
The Tuesday launching was to promote private/public sector partnerships locally with regard to managing agricultural health programmes through the formation of national or local agricultural health councils and to sensitise policymakers.
Participants were drawn, including from Ministries of Agriculture, Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Health, Trade, Tourism and Industry and Guyana Revenue Authority, University of Guyana and Tourism Association of Guyana.
Some of the participants at the Tuesday launch.
Speaking on the occasion, Assistant Coordinator of the SAQS Project, Mr. Bradley Georges told them they are now living in a world where globalisation is the theme of the day and has been posing economic threats by all sorts of species that will enter and create havoc in the natural environment.
He said the situation can affect countries like Guyana, which is trying to boost its eco-tourism and to which protection is critical.
According to Mr. Georges, while there will be huge trade opportunities to take advantage of, it must be done in a safe manner and countries wanting to utilise the openings must put SPS systems in place to prove that their foods and other exports are wholesome and get protection from arbitrary, non-tariff trade barriers.
SAQS was born out of this need and will offer training in a number of areas for the setting up of the necessary mechanisms, he said.
Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy informed the gathering that Guyana has produced a related document and initiated discussions on the development of a comprehensive common approach to the issue of agriculture and food safety years ago and much was done in that area.
He said, since the documentation was prepared, there were at least three meetings of Ministers of Fisheries, Health and Tourism, to determine the move forward, based on recommendations made.
Ramsammy said, with his portfolio, he is mandated to ensure the safety of this nation's people but cannot divorce that from the health of plants and animals.
He said, though difficult, the discussion among the Ministers are continuing with the objective of implementing many of the recommended proposals.
Ramsammy said food trade or environment/health interests is the subject of a world debate and, sometimes when approached in a narrow way, can exclude or ignore the health and environmental interests of a country.
He explained that the debate is usually dominated by economic concerns and diseases that affect agriculture production can be introduced into a country through trade.
Consequently, WTO regulations must be addressed thoroughly and better services provided in each country, Ramsammy said, warning that Caribbean nations must follow suit because, while they might make the CNN headlines, their operations have to be in the interest of their peoples.
"If we are going to compete as a small nation in this globalised economy, we will have to adhere to the rules and be a player in the creation of the rules. We cannot simply be consumers and be at the end of the line while others make the rules for us.
"And, if we are going to do so, not only as part of a regional body but within our own countries this must be pursued," the Minister urged.
Officials expect that the results from SAQS activities will include the formation of national and/or local councils to manage agricultural health programmes like vaccination and pest eradication.
Those goals can be achieved by developing accreditation programmes for private agricultural health professionals and/or laboratories to conduct regulatory functions under Government supervision, they said.
It is also anticipated that SAQS would introduce user fees and cost recovery mechanisms for selected quarantine services with the income being re-invested in agricultural health services to help countries develop national emergency preparedness plans for animal and plant health and conduct simulation exercises for agricultural health emergencies.
The scheme should also assist countries to establish national risk management and assessment units with pest and disease surveillance capability, as well. (ABIGAIL BUTLER)