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OECS Supports Chastanet's Regional Banana Proposal

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - Heads of Government of the OECS are in support of a proposal to develop a Caribbean market for Caribbean bananas and are already taking initial steps in that direction.

Recently, local entrepreneur Michael Chastanet said it was possible to develop a regional market for bananas produced in St. Lucia and the Windward Islands. He said that with access to the European Market becoming more and more difficult, the region should look at the possibility of marketing and selling locally-produced bananas within the region. Mr. Chastanet identified Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands – where bananas are consumed, but not produced – as possible markets for Windward Islands bananas.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Compton immediately scoffed Mr. Chastanet's proposal. In a statement, the UWP Leader described Mr. Chastanet's proposal as “illogical, ill-advised and downright dangerous.” He said the proposal as one that would “return St. Lucia to the days of the schooner trade of hawking our fruit on the docksides of Barbados, Antigua and the Virgin Islands.”

Sir John likened Mr. Chastanet's proposal to the proverbial dog and the shadow of its bone, saying it would be foolish for the islands to abandon the European market of 52 million persons, “in favour of 350,000 Caribbean people with lower purchasing power than the United Kingdom.”

But a technical paper prepared by an official of the OECS Secretariat for the OECS Heads of Government does not agree with Sir John's prognosis. Instead, it favours the approach advocated by Mr. Chastanet. Indeed, when they gathered in Anguilla for their 42nd Summit Meeting, the Heads of Government reviewed the paper on “Developments in the Banana Trade” in member-states, which they also examined “Alternative Markets for Caribbean Bananas.”

Like Mr. Chastanet, the author of the document noted that in the face of the increasing pressure on regional bananas exports to Europe, “the regional banana market seems to be the logical choice.” They also noted that there exists a sizeable market for bananas in Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin islands.

While the exact size of these markets in the Caribbean has not been quantified, some preliminary estimates place them at about 200,000 to 300,000 metric tons per year – which, the document noted, “is in excess of the combined capacities of all Windward Islands' output.”

“Therefore,” the document said, “not only is there a market for bananas within the region, there would also appear to be prospects for growth into the years ahead.”

The document concluded, however, that “success in developing the regional market will depend on the cooperation on non-banana producing CARICOM states.”

The paper also concluded that other markets worth pursuing within the region would include the cruise ship sector and the hotel industry in member-states, as several hotels and cruise lines currently import bananas under various arrangements from outside of the region.

After considering the document, the Heads of Government mandated the OECS Secretariat to undertake further work geared at establishing the size of the regional banana market and other non-traditional markets like cruise ships and hotels for the region's banana export.

The Secretariat was also mandated by the OECS Heads of Government to work closely with the stakeholders in member-states to develop a regional marketing and distribution plan.


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