13th January, 2009
The economies of whole islands in the Caribbean face ruin if the WTO, acting at the behest of US-owned multinationals, forces the EU to end preferential trade agreements with small-scale West Indian banana producers
When the last great colonial monoculture crop of sugar became unproﬁtable in the 1950s, former British colonies such as Jamaica and the Windward Isles (Grenada, Domenica, St Vincent and St Lucia) were encouraged to move into banana production. This trade was protected by a system of quotas and licences which granted them preferential access to the UK market. The advantageous trade terms were a recognition of the fact that the small-scale, family farmers on these islands could never compete cost-wise with the vast banana plantations in places like Latin America.
Caribbean bananas are necessarily more expensive to produce than their plantation equivalents. Banana farms on these hilly little islands are characteristically small, the terrain is steep and not suitable for mechanisation; and irrigation is rarely an affordable option, so growers depend on erratic rainfall. The cost of transporting produce from the islands to market is inevitably higher than on a large landmass, where fruit can be rapidly trucked to major ports. And well-observed labour laws in the Caribbean ensure that workers are properly remunerated by regional standards.
Despite these handicaps, the preferential trading conditions given...
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