Govt devising quarantine strategy
-to withstand freer trade

Stabroek News
November 29, 2002

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Environmental and health interests should not be neglected in the pursuit of trade liberalisation, Guyana’s Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, told participants on Tuesday at a consultation on Strengthening Agricultural Quarantine Services in the Caribbean (SAQS).

SAQS is a sub-programme of CARIFORUM’s Caribbean Agricultural and Fisheries Programme (CAFP), and aims to increase the compliance with the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) along with requirements of the proposed Free Trade Areas of the Americas (FTAA).

Speaking at the consultation hosted by the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) at the Ocean View International Hotel, Ramsammy noted that in the context of globalisation, the world’s debate is that of “free trade or environmental or health interests.” He however observed, that this is sometimes approached in a narrow way, where one of these is excluded.

“Are we going to pursue free trade at all costs, ignoring environmental harm to the country...?” Recognising that the debate is usually dominated by economic interests, he said the consequences are that diseases could be introduced which could do harm. These were real threats to not only agriculture produce but also to human health.

Ramsammy said he was not advocating more quarantine measures but cautioned that the country must take stock of why these regulations came into being in the first instance.

In this regard he also advocated that countries like Guyana become players in the creation of the rules rather than just merely confining themselves to accepting regulations written by others.

There is currently a document dealing with agriculture health and safety in Guyana and among the suggestions are legislative reform, institutional strengthening and the establishment of a collaborative agency responsible for agricultural health and safety reform.

At least three meetings have been held, between the Ministers of Agriculture; Fisheries, Crops and Lives-tock; Health; and Tourism, Industry and Commerce, on the development of a comprehensive, common approach, Ramsammy said. Among the major priority areas at these meetings were health and safety reform as well as the implementation of recommendations made in the document. He noted that the discussions between the ministers focused on how to go about it, without giving up anything.

Assistant co-ordinator of the SAQS project, Bradley Georges explained that exotic species could enter and cause havoc to the natural environment of countries like Guyana.

He said the 1995 SPS Agreement mandated that systems be put in place in all countries, governing sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

He noted that a 1997 IICA survey had found that most countries in the region were far from compliant.

This led to the launching of the SAQS project, which he said would play a dual role: enabling Guyana to take advantage of huge trade opportunities while offering protection.

Guyana, he noted, was further along the road than most other countries, on the development of a common approach to agriculture and food and health safety, with the draft document.

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