By Cathy Lashley
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- The government of Barbados is actively working at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as well as international levels to ensure that the island does not face unfair competition with its rum exports.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made this clear as he spoke with members of the media following a tour of Foursquare Rum Distillery in St Philip on Friday.
Stuart disclosed that, at present, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands were able to purchase products much cheaper than Caribbean rum producers and, as a result, this gave them an unfair advantage as far as their rum exports were concerned. He said this matter was engaging the attention of CARICOM states and was being "actively" addressed.
He added: "The rum industry is too important to Barbados, and yes it is a CARICOM issue, but I don't think any CARICOM country has any reason to be as concerned about this as Barbados. Rum is assuming an importance for Barbados that we cannot afford to ignore. So, this is a front burner issue and we are following it very closely."
The prime minister disclosed that he recently held lengthy discussions with the US Assistant Secretary of State on the matter and also met with Barbados's ambassador to Washington, John Beale, as well as Barbados's ambassador to CARICOM, Robert ‘Bobby' Morris. Furthermore, he explained that Barbados's ambassador to Geneva, Dr Marion Williams, was also looking into the issue.
"The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) held a meeting last Friday in Guyana and discussed the subsidies ... The two rum producers in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, [and] the Dominican Republic have become involved in this and it has become a CARICOM issue and we anticipate that, if there is not a reversal or some kind of accommodation, it may have to reach the WTO [World Trade Organisation], but we are waiting for the outcome of a Geneva meeting..." he underlined.
With respect to the performance of the Foursquare Rum Distillery, Stuart congratulated executive chairman, Sir David Seale, on the company's success and noted that the distillery has been making a unique contribution to Barbados' rum industry. Consequently, he said that it was important to him both as "prime minister and as a citizen of Barbados".
He added: "... What has gone on here is really incredible. I just felt that I needed to see how rum is produced... and it is really not fair that I should drink it and not know how it comes into being and when I say drink it I don't mean to excess, but to take a little for the stomach's sake."
Foursquare Rum Distillery is currently exporting products to the United States, Australia, Europe, Russia, and the United Kingdom.