St Johns, Antigua (TDN) -- The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) hosted the launch of three programmes focused on food safety in the agro-processing and specialty foods sector at the Hilton Barbados last Wednesday.
The launch included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the CARICOM Regional Organisation of Standards and Quality (CROSQ), the opening of a Special Call for Proposals – Food Safety for CARIFORUM agro-processing firms to receive financial assistance and, finally, the launch of the Agency’s new regional online Food Safety Portal.
Present at the event was Mr. Zissimos Vergos, First Counsellour, Head of Social Development, Delegation of the European Union to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Mrs. Pamela Coke Hamilton, Executive Director Caribbean Export, Mr. Gregg C. E. Rawlins, representative of IICA, Mr. Russell Franklyn, representative of CROSQ, and keynote speaker Dr. Beverley Wood, Project Coordinator, National Agriculture Health and Food Control Programme, Ministry of Agriculture representing the Minister of Agriculture.
Caribbean Export’s Executive Director, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, opened the morning’s proceedings with an informative address on the history and context of the Food Safety Preparedness Programme.
“Today’s signing of an MOU with CROSQ and IICA is significant as it sets the platform for cooperation to take place with the aim of ensuring that fresh foods and agro-processed products are produced under standard quality control conditions within the CARIFORUM States so that they meet the sanitary and technical regulatory requirements of the international marketplace.”
In January 2010, Caribbean Export received USD 1 million from the Caribbean Aid for Trade and Regional Integration Trust Fund (CARTFund), funded by DFID, to finance a 2-year project aimed at strengthening the Specialty Food Sector and increasing the export of enterprises of all sizes within the Specialty Food Sector from CARIFORUM countries.
Under this project, a Specialty Foods Sector Study was conducted which resulted in the development of a Regional Specialty Food Sector Strategy and Action Plan that details the priority actions needed to address the major constraints to expanding the sector.
The high costs of meeting global food safety requirements were identified as one of the major constraints to the competitiveness of the agro-processing sector in CARIFORUM. After consultations and feedback from stakeholders across the region, the three initiatives were conceptualized.
The first of these, the MoU among the three regional agencies is intended to establish a formal framework for collaboration on matters relating to global food safety export requirements.
More specifically, the agreement aims to facilitate the sharing of information on the respective work programmes of the parties to determine strategic areas of cooperation; while operating in good faith on the dissemination of information pertaining to food safety to stakeholders in the CARIFORUM States and ultimately collaboration on specific food safety issues to the benefit of the wider business community in general and fresh food and agro-processing exporters in particular.
This MoU also aims to satisfy the promotion of trade and export development among CARIFORUM States which is one of the Caribbean Export’s primary objectives under the 10th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme (RPSDP).
Before signing the MoU, Mr Gregg C. E. Rawlins, representative of IICA, thanked Caribbean Export for initiating the agreement. He further stated that:
“This morning’s launch of the regional Food Safety Preparedness Programme is indeed timely as it affords us, partners in development, with another opportunity to position and embed our agri-food enterprises, firms and industries, more firmly into the region’s socio-economic growth agenda.”
Mr Russell Franklyn of CROSQ, echoed these statements, adding that, “This is not our first agreement with Caribbean Export…The combination [of Caribbean Export and CROSQ] is really good because [Caribbean Export] works more specifically with the firms and [CROSQ] deals with policies on a more government and public level."
"This is also not our first agreement with IICA: we have worked together on developing most of the CARICOM regional standards. So the combination of these three institutions in looking at food and food safety is one that should probably have happened before now.”
The event also marked the opening of a Special Call for Proposals - Food Safety. The objective of the Special Call is to assist agro- producers and exporters in undertaking the measures necessary to facilitate their meeting global good safety requirements, in particular those of the EU market.
The program involves reimbursable grants of up to 10,000 euros which represent a maximum of 70% of the total project cost to CARIFORUM based agro-processing firm. Firms that are exporting or demonstrate their potential to export and who meet the eligibility criteria are encouraged to apply to this Special Call for Proposals – Food Safety.
Finally, the Agency also launched a Regional Online Food Safety Portal intended to serve as a key tool in enhancing the awareness of relevant stakeholders on issues related to global food safety requirements, as well as serve as a platform for facilitating the exports of the region’s specialty foods brands and products.