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Web Posted - Mon May 10 2004
By Terence Murrell

A local company executive has lamented the use of labelling standards by the United States to restrict the entry of his company’s products into the US market, and has advocated that Barbados institute its own “barriers” to limit the flood of American products coming into Barbados.

Edwin Thirwell, the executive chairman of BICO, noted last week during a seminar hosted by the Caribbean Employers’ Confederation, that labelling standards in the US as it relates to the use of the metric system in Barbados has led his company to focus instead on the European market.

“We do not export to the United States because the barrier to trade is labelling in their case. They also operate a quota system with regard to dairy products. How can you have a free and open trading environment and there are quota systems? We made a decision therefore that we would not even try to enter that market because of the barriers created via labelling standards.”

According to Thirwell, Barbados could use the fact that it is a metricated country as a barrier to American goods.

“They would not hesitate to do the same thing to us, and I think we have to be a bit more aggressive with regard to these issues. Every time you try, they put another barrier in the way, so we need to do the same thing. We should be saying, get your American products out of here, because we are a metricated country. We do not want unstandardised sizes, and this is a barrier which could be easily implemented. It is perfectly legal under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.”

Thirwell further lamented that there are also restrictions in the US market with regard to portion sizes.

“The US, Canada and Europe have different standards with regard to portion sizes. Every time you want to send anything to the US, the writing on the package is looked at with a microscope to see if they are any grounds for stopping it from entering. We are therefore going to target the European market because we use the metric system. The biggest export market for us is actually the UK market, which has 600 000 West Indians. We have a presence across the Caribbean, from Belize in the west to Guyana in the southeast.

In supporting the comments made by Edwin Thirwell, Omar Ortiz, manager of finance, labour and trade for the Belize Chamber of Commerce, noted that the United States’ Bio Terrorism Act has impacted enormously on countries in Latin America and in some ways it has impacted the Caribbean as well. According to him, one of the problems with the act is – regardless of the fact that goods may be intransit – as long as they are going to touch a US port, they have to be qualified and certified.

“A problem that we find is that goods being exported from Belize may not be enough to fill a container, so you may get a container coming from Africa, for instance, which ends up in Belize, but when it came from Africa it had some battery or some chemicals in it, and that container comes back to the shipping service to Belize, and it has residues or chemicals. The goods that we ship in that container, which are intransit to the US, is some kind of food product for human or animal consumption. When they (US) check the exterior of the package and they find the residue, that entire shipment is held up. The cost of destroying it or sending it back is borne by the person who is in fact exporting it,” stated Ortiz.

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