Politicians and rum producers
WHILE MUCH IS to be admired about Government’s fierce loyalty to the rum producers of Barbados, one cannot help but wonder why more ideas are not flowing out of the minds of our economists, politicians – including the Opposition – and the rum industry’s practitioners themselves.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, at the opening of the new ageing bond at the Mount Gay Complex in St Lucy on Thursday night, pledged that Government would maintain its alertness to the issue of what could be considered unfair subsidies by the United States against local and Caribbean rum. He also said if it meant the Government would need to go as far as the World Trade Organization (WTO) on this matter, it would do so.
At present, despite lobby after lobby by CARICOM, CARIFORUM, individual governments and the Dominican Republic, the United States – our main rum export market – insists upon maintaining the exorbitantly high subsidies that favour Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. The reasons are obvious, and while they now hurt our former British colonies like Barbados and Jamaica, today’s American “colonies” are getting their moment of favour in much the same way as we did with crops like sugar, bananas and cotton.
But, as the WTO would attest, the world has changed and the world market should indeed be an open and level playing field. Unfortunately, for Caribbean rum, this is not so.
The Caribbean producers therefore have to begin at home by re-educating our people about the superior quality of our product in comparison to the far more expensive colonial whiskeys, vodkas and brandies.
With the size of the regional market that should include Cuba and Latin America, greater sensitization and appreciation for the rich quality and history of rum should begin to make an impact among consumers; and such public education, which Prime Minister Stuart also called for Thursday, has to be the purview of the producers who know the intricacies of rum blending, ageing and responsible consumption.
The politicians and economists, meanwhile, have been almost silent on the United States rum subsidy issue, but are often quick on the draw with ideas to save the international business sector – a more lucrative area but one in which Barbados simply cannot compete with Bermuda’s zero per cent tax rate and other attractive incentives.
With local rum bringing $80 million in foreign exchange annually to Barbados, and with the potential for reaching more than the current 70-odd countries, this is too precious a commodity not to be discussed among the private and public sectors, economists and politicians.
One idea to start the ball rolling is the possibility of delving more deeply into the French-speaking market. Mount Gay’s parent company, Remy Cointreau, clearly must have a presence beyond France itself, and a bout of marketing in the French-speaking Caribbean, Europe and Africa wouldn’t hurt.
In the meantime, Government and the local agricultural sector must also work assiduously to produce more of the local raw material – molasses – while aggressively lobbying the United States government and the WTO.