St Lucia begins drive to implement metric system to catch up with region


Wednesday, March 23, 2005    

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CASTRIES, St Lucia (AP) - St Lucia has begun a drive to convert its weights and measures to the metric system in a bid to catch up with its neighbours ahead of the creation of a Caribbean single economic market, an official said Monday.

Most of the 15-nation Caribbean Community has already gone from the old imperial system still used in Britain and the United States to the metric system, which is used by most other developed nations.

First adopted by France in 1799, the metric system uses meters instead of yards and kilograms instead of pounds.

A former British colony that won its independence in 1979, St Lucia passed a bill to implement the metric system five years ago.

"We have had to set up an interim board to determine St Lucia's readiness and willingness to metricate," said Allison Plummer, director of the St Lucia Bureau of Standards, which is coordinating the drive, which includes a massive public education program.

By the end of the year, St Lucia's 162,000 residents may be buying their gasoline in litres instead of gallons, and St Lucia plans to achieve full implementation of the metric system within five years.

Metrication is "about changing the whole mindset of the people of the islands", Plummer said.

Trinidad was among the first to pass metric system legislation, more than 25 years ago, said Camella Rhone, with the Caribbean Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality, an intergovernmental agency.

Other countries followed suit, and the metric system is permeating daily life at different rates throughout the region.

In January, heavy rains caused devastating floods in Guyana. The weather bureau measured the rainfall in millimetres.

"Other community member states are in process," said Rhone.

Farthest behind is Antigua, which is still on the imperial system and does not plan to pass metric legislation in sooner than four years.

While Jamaica generally follows the standards of Britain and the United States, which are important trading partners, its bureau of standards has become more vigilant in monitoring local consumer products.

"In general within the region, at the consumer level the changes made are not totally apparent as imperial units are still being used," Rhone said.

In 1995, Jamaica passed an amendment to the Weights and Measures Act to enforce compliance with the metric system.

Although the systems are often dual, the metric system is used when demanded in trade, for example, in the automobile and rum and spirits trade and in the building and engineering, road transport, and petroleum industries, Rhone said.

"If the region is to be serious about using the single market to facilitate trade, the international system of measurement has to be declared as the official language of measurement in trade," she said.

By 2010, the European Union will only accept trade in metric weights and measures, Plummer said.

The Caribbean Community this year plans to institute an EU-style single market, which will allow duty-free trade between participating nations.




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