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Trade Ministers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have been urged to act now and plan for “eventualities” as the Region grapples with ensuing challenges facing its rice, sugar, and rum and banana industries.

This position was put to the Ministers by Chairman of CARICOM's Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED, Minister of Agriculture, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Hon. Montgomery Daniel. He was addressing the opening session for the 17th meeting of COTED in Trinidad and Tobago, 16 June 2004.

He reminded his colleague Ministers that agriculture continued to be a vital industry for the Region.

“Agriculture and its Trade related-issues remain the Queen in the high stake chess game that is played out in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Association of Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP)- European Union (EU) Economic Partnership Arrangements,” said Mr. Daniel.

Against the background of the Region's push for the development of a Regional Transformation Programme for Agriculture, the COTED Chairman stressed that Regional decision-makers must bring into focus the issues of fisheries, selected Agriculture commodities and other constituent parts of Agriculture in the Region.

Quoting from EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Mr. Daniel said, “Agriculture is not just about Economic Commodities but Commodities with far reaching social consequences.”

Mr. Daniel said that the COTED focus on the agriculture was timely. He emphasised that agriculture stands out as one of the most significant sectors to the economy of the Region in terms of its multiplier effects and as an employment vehicle.

The COTED Chairman called for more frequent dedicated sessions of Meetings of COTED. This he believed to be important in light of the upcoming Economic Partnership Arrangements (EPA's), and strong efforts to restart talks in the WTO. He said the COTED needs to take a more involved approach and monitoring of the main issues in negotiations, particularly within the context of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) to ensure that the process is directed from the highest level.

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