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THE BARBADOS AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY (BAS) is appealing to Government not to be swayed by any plea from restaurateurs for a waiver of duties on imported ham and chicken.

Chief executive officer James Paul says this call comes in light of recent suggestions from private sector entities claiming that the items would be cheaper and their businesses more profitable if duties on these goods were lowered. 

Paul said such proposals were shocking since this year’s local pork processing statistics were on their way to surpassing last year’s production. He added that this fact alone should have triggered a sense of confidence in the local industry’s ability to satisfactorily maintain supply.

“This has been a better year for pork production . . . . Earlier this year we were a bit concerned but from what we are seeing since the Christmas season has actually broken, there is an increase in the number of animals being slaughtered.”

The BAS boss said that nothwithstanding this, he was “a bit surprised” to hear comments from some sections of the private sector to lower duties on ham.

“Business persons have expressed the need for Government to earn and conserve foreign exchange, but here it is we are producing a product and are going to take valuable foreign exchange to facilitate importation which would be at the expense of local jobs.

“Secondly, why haven’t people within the business community soughtto engage in partnerships with local farmers to see if they can get the kind of product that would allow them to increase the production of local hams? HIPAC does not have to be the only producer of ham: yet we constantly hear talk of a lack of investment opportunities from the private sector,” he lamented.

Paul described the importation suggestions as mischievous and highly offensive, maintaining that investment in the agricultural sector could create more jobs and foster economic expansion.He added that the private sector should not be willing to push the local agriculture industry by the wayside, knowing that imports seriously affected the sector’s operations and productivity.

The Government backbencher lambasted requests for duty-free imports which he said were coming from local franchise holders for international brands. He said that in the past, franchises found a way to survive within the jurisdictions of local agricultural conditions and he couldn’t understand why recent franchisees claimed they could not.

“This is a clear attempt by persons within the private sector to undermine our local agriculture producers, especially when it comes to poultry.”

Paul said that these businesses were using the National Social Responsibility Levy,the current economic crisis and the recent social media furore of consumers crying out over prices, as strategies to lobby for duty-free imports, but charged the companies simply wanted more profits.

Paul stressed that contrary to popular belief, ham prices were no more expensive in 2017 than they were last year. (SB)