Published On: Thu, Nov 6th, 2014

US offers technical assistance for CARICOM agriculture imports

CARICOMhqNASSAU, Bahamas -- The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are developing a food safety training program – expected to be operational before the end of 2014 – aimed at helping Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states meet the requirements of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The matter was one of many raised at the sixth meeting of the Trade and Investment Council (TIC), where CARICOM member states requested from the US a definitive indication as to when the technical assistance program is likely to be rolled out.

The US was expected to update CARICOM member states on the progress of both the FSMA project, signed into law by US President Barack Obama in 2011, and an offer of technical assistance in the area of sanitary/phyto-sanitary (SPS) measures for agricultural products, extended in January 2014.

Since March, nine CARICOM member states – Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago – have been awaiting word from the US on the technical assistance offer. These countries submitted information on the agricultural products for which SPS technical assistance was desired. Belize, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago also submitted requests for other kinds of SPS-related technical assistance, Guardian Business understands.

Bahamas exports to US

At the TIC, CARICOM member states sought to stress the importance of agricultural exports to their economies, particularly exports to the US. The technical assistance offered by the US would contribute significantly to ensuring that CARICOM member states are able to meet the requirements of the new FSMA and exports to the US continue to enjoy unimpeded access.

Of the $366.9 million in domestic exports from The Bahamas last year, almost a quarter – more than $94 million – was fish and crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic invertebrates. The vast majority of those exports were to the US, although exports also went to Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia, China and France.

Bahamian fishermen exported grouper, snapper and “other” fish, both fresh and frozen, to the tune of over $1.1 million in 2013, all of it to the US. Spiny lobster exports for the year totalled over $86 million, mainly to the US, Canada, France, with some to China and Japan, and live lobster exports to Hong Kong and the US.

Of note, conch exports to Canada and the US totalled $4.2 million.

FDA on FSMA

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, and according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), enables the FDA to better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system.

In addition to new enforcement authorities designed to achieve higher rates of compliance with prevention and risk-based food safety standards, the law gives the FDA power to better respond to and contain problems when they do occur, along with new tools to hold imported foods to the same standards as domestic foods. It also directs the FDA to build an integrated national food safety system in partnership with state and local authorities. The US Congress has established specific implementation dates in the legislation, with stepped timeframe for the rollout of the law and regulations.

By K. Quincy Parker
Nassau Guardian Business Editor 

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