St Lucia shipping bananas to T&T following UK trade suspension
St Lucia’s Agriculture Minister Alfred Prospere announced on Monday that St. Lucia now exports bananas to Trinidad and Tobago, following the suspension of commerce with the United Kingdom earlier this month.
Speaking to the media before the weekly Cabinet meeting, Prospere rejected claims that the Phillip Pierre administration was responsible for the demise of the industry.
“However, they never included the most crucial aspect of my remark, which was that immediately after this decision was made, the exact same quantity of bananas was diverted to Trinidad and Tobago,” Prospere said, adding that the UK trade suspension had no negative effect on local growers.
“We are still shipping those 1,000 boxes to Trinidad,” Prospere said, adding that the local authorities are working with a Trinidad & Tobago supplier to supply an extra 3,000 boxes of local bananas to the Republic of the twin-island nation.
“The point I’m making is that we are not in a position where the thousand boxes of fruit destined for the United Kingdom are halted because our farmers would be unable to harvest their crops. Their fruits are still in the process of being gathered and exported.
“Therefore, I want to make it known to the public that the situation in which we had to cease exports to the United Kingdom has been resolved, and those fruits are now being exported to Trinidad and Tobago,” he added.
Prospere, in announcing the UK ban on banana trade, stated that the banana business had collapsed when the Pierre administration took office in July of last year.
“The banana trade with the United Kingdom was suspended for two years. Critical infrastructure essential to operate the sector efficiently was demolished. The principal exporter of bananas, WIBDECO/Winfresh Ltd., went bankrupt.
Key assets such as the ripening plant at Stanstead in the United Kingdom and Winfresh’s shareholding in the Geest shipping line, according to Prospere, were sold to third parties to cover financial obligations. According to him, this meant that the banana exporting company had lost its primary components, including transportation, marketing, and logistics.
“The local producer base/organization, farmer’s NFTO, was experiencing financial losses and technical difficulties. They were required to instantly accept responsibility for the business aspect of the trade while lacking the necessary resources and skills. The current scenario appears to be pretty dire.”
According to Prospere, the government deemed it necessary to act for the sake of sustaining social harmony and economic mobility in rural communities in light of the socioeconomic ramifications and vital significance of the banana trade in rural areas.
“We deemed it prudent, in the national interest, to infuse the necessary financial and technical backing to resume trading with UK supermarkets. A borrowing facility was formed to inject EC$3.8 million into the NFTO (1 EC dollar = 0.37 US cents).
“To further emphasize the government’s commitment to our farmers and the people of St. Lucia, a government-led delegation traveled to the United Kingdom to meet with supermarket representatives to determine the best way to proceed with the trade and to finalize contractual arrangements with our farmers. I exhibited the government of St. Lucia’s involvement in the banana trade by maintaining direct communication with our farmers, the NFTO, and our UK retail partners as the trade evolved.
In May of this year, a technical group from the United Kingdom visited St. Lucia to assess the level of readiness before to the start of commerce, he added. Prospere stated that the technical field visit was found satisfactory, and trading with the United Kingdom began on May 15 without delay.
During the period of trade, he claimed, the government continued to subsidize agricultural inputs like as oils and fertilizer for banana farmers.
In addition, we have actively targeted other regional markets in order to provide our farmers with more opportunities. While attempting to revive the banana industry, we saw success for a time. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the supply chain and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine have presented significant obstacles that currently threaten the economic viability of the trade.”
He claimed that the high shipping and gasoline costs connected with a container of bananas are estimated at $8,200 per container “and rising” and that it will be impossible for the grocery chain to continue subsidizing 50% of the shipping costs if fuel prices continue to rise.
“Every day, the prices of important commodities such as fertilizer, oil, bags, and other inputs increase. The lengthy journey time to the United Kingdom renders us uncompetitive in comparison to other providers.”
According to Prospero, the Geest shipping company has a monopoly on the route and has showed little interest in modernizing the container containers that transport our bananas.
He stated that if the previous administration had not sold off our investment in the shipping industry, we would have been able to subsidize our shipping costs, modernize the containers to our specifications, and select a quicker travel route that would have given our bananas a competitive advantage.
“Today, this crucial choice to sell our participation in the shipping industry continues to plague us.
The persistent difficulties necessitated a review of the trade to assess the business case and see if the parties are generating the money they had anticipated prior to the transaction’s inception.”
Prospere reported that the contracting parties, NFTO and the UK supermarket chain, have informed the government that they have opted to pause the trade while they watch the present events affecting the trade in the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.
“The growing cost of living and rising energy prices over the next few months have caused significant uncertainty for everyone. When both sides agree that it is beneficial to proceed, the deal will be executed.
“Fortunately for our farmers, the efforts we’ve made to pursue regional markets are exhibiting signs of improvement and expansion. The shipment of bananas originally destined for the British market will now be redirected to the regional market, and weekly commerce will continue.”
According to Prospere, the NFTO and the government are already pursuing more enquiries across the region, and they will soon be able to expand our regional market presence and volume.
“As we look to develop regional trade, we continue to push our farmers to retain the best quality associated with our bananas.”
Prospere informed the press that he has spoken with a customer in St. Thomas who is interested in bananas and plantains, avocados, citrus, and other crops.
Prospere told reporters, “We’re doing great thus far.”
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