Can Caricom save us?
The JMEA considers Caricom food basket proposal
CARICOM leaders are examining the possibility of supplying sister countries with more food.

THE Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), in a critical response to a recent proposal by Caricom ministers that nations in the region supply each other with more food, comment that the issue of logistics, cost of shipment and other factors will influence the feasibility of the proposal.

The potential of Caricom is being examined as inflation rises and supply chain difficulties increase for all.

There is a case for considering the regional push for food security. The JMEA told the Jamaica Observer, “Based on our observation of the data, Jamaica’s food import bill reached a record high of US$1,123 million in 2021, an increase of 20 per cent relative to 2020.”

“In our assessment of Jamaica’s food imports by country and product, we found that most of Jamaica’s top food imports were supplied by international partners while far fewer imports were supplied by countries in the Caricom region.”

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) released data earlier this year showing that Jamaica’s imports of food from the Caricom region in 2021 were valued at US$153.0 million. This represented only 13.6 per cent of Jamaica’s total food import bill for the year.

Comparatively, Jamaica’s imports of food from the United States, Mexico and Canada were valued at US$559.8 million in 2021 which represented 49.8 per cent of Jamaica’s food import bill for that year. Between 30 and 44 per cent of Jamaica’s food comes from the United States, according to data for 2019.

Inflation

Since the start of the year, and with the challenge of increasing inflationary pressures, Caricom leaders are again tackling the issue of food security and making declarations on how to reduce the region’s vulnerability.

Caricom’s secretary general, Dr Carla Barnett, says the region’s food security problem is high on the agenda. According to the Caricom Secretariat, the food import bill for the Caricom stood at US$4.98 billion in 2018 which was more than double the region’s US$2.08-billion food import tab of 2000. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has indicated that if current trends continue, similar exponential increases in Caricom’s food import bill will take place in the coming years.

As reported, Caribbean leaders have set a target to reduce regional food imports in 2025 by 25 per cent. However, one of the major challenges with food security in the Caribbean is figuring out the logistics of how to move goods from a member state which has a glut to another state where there’s a shortage.

The JMEA in its analysis of increasing food imports from Caricom stated, “We believe that many factors would have to be considered. Such factors include: economies of scale/unit value; inflation; logistics and cost of shipment; ease of doing business; export potential and consistency in supply; economic performance and expectation. Savings which can be achieved from higher Caricom imports is ‘worth investigating’ the JMEA response added.

Jamaica’s food imports

At a record high of US$1,123 million in 2021, Jamaica’s food import was up 20 per cent from the US$933 million recorded in 2020. However, when compared to pre-pandemic year of 2019, the bill was up just 9.5 per cent. The JMEA outlined, “In fact, there has been a steady increase in food imports since 2017, except for 2020, indicating that Jamaica is becoming more reliant on imported food. Notably, the country’s food import bill is now four times that of food exports.”

It is also noted that a significant percentage of food imported by Jamaica is destined for hotels and restaurants while the remaining imports are channeled to manufacturers and consumers through retail outlets such as supermarkets, convenience stores, and small shops.

Statin’s indicated that Jamaica’s imports of ‘Food and Beverage’ for industry use was valued at US$185.0 million in 2021, 24.2 per cent higher than 2020. This was due mainly to higher imports of cereal and cereal preparations as well as fixed vegetable fats and oils for production.

However, ‘Food and Beverages’ for household consumption were valued at US$889.2 million, an increase of 20 per cent when compared to the US$741.0 million for 2020. The increase was due primarily to higher imports of other food preparations, as well as meat and meat preparations.

Imports by country and region

The top suppliers of food products to Jamaica in 2021 were the United States of America (USA), Canada, Thailand, Netherlands, and Guatemala.

The JMEA in pointing out that fact noted, “from the Caricom region, we find that the top suppliers were Guyana and the Dominican Republic. Trinidad and Tobago, though not mentioned above due to lack of data availability, is usually included in the top suppliers of food products to Jamaica.”

Logistical challenges face Caribbean countries which want to import more from sister nations. It might be cheaper and easier to stick with traditional food suppliers.
Avia Collinder

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