Intra-regional trade remains a key priority for CARICOM leaders as well as food producers. However, understanding market entry requirements for regional markets tend to pose a challenge for potential food exporters. Efforts to address an aspect of this issue were achieved on August 26, 2021, when the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) hosted a capacity building webinar titled Food Packaging and Labelling Regulations for CARICOM Markets. The activity was facilitated by Sharon Peart-Rose, Senior Food Technologist at the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI).
The session was one of a series of capacity building webinars being hosted by IICA through a project funded by its International Trade and Regional Integration Programme. While the webinar was open to food producers across all of CARICOM, the project is directly being implemented in six CARICOM countries, namely Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago. In each of the countries, there will be specific national capacity building activities while the regional sessions cater for generic deficiencies among producers. The project will also include support for the testing of products to gain market access, e-commerce facilitation and the building of networks, and will culminate in the connection of producers to buyers via a virtual trade forum from the 10th – 12th November, 2021.
Moderator Dr. Lisa Harrynanan, Agricultural Health and Food Safety Specialist at IICA, noted that the issue of packaging and labelling remains a major impediment for regional small-scale producers. Stating that many producers are unaware of the various national market requirements, Harrynanan said as such, the information shared would place export ready producers in a more competitive position. And with over 150 CARICOM producers participating, the information did reach a wide audience.
In presenting legislation from the various territories related to both packaging and labelling, Sharon Peart-Rose, Food Technologist, CARIRI, said with regards to packaging, in the absence of a published regional standard, each country possessed its own legislative guidelines.
She stressed that in most major markets it was an offense to “package food in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety”.
Peart-Rose added that while most countries lack detailed packaging legislation, there was legislation that banned Styrofoam packaging in key markets such as Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
She highlighted that the labelling requirements for countries can be sourced from domestic bureaus of standards but pointed out that many markets had updated their requirements to conform to CARICOM and CODEX Alimentarius labelling guidelines.
Those two guidelines serve as good baselines since they match international guidelines with respect to the basic labelling elements.
Participants welcomed the initiative and embraced the wealth of information shared.
Bianna Edwards, a Tobago tea producer said she was impressed with the level of detail provided and that the information was timely.
Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) representative, Asraf Narine, also mentioned the value of the activity, noting that the information would be of tremendous benefits to small scale exporters.
Allister Glean, Technical Specialist, IICA International Trade and Regional Integration Programme, informed participants that the activity was only possible through the collaboration with CARIRI and other partners.
He stated that additional sessions regarding distribution, transportation logistics, costing and pricing of products as well as the overall identification of market opportunities were all carded for the upcoming weeks.
Glean reminded participants that while the Covid-19 pandemic had generally impacted producers negatively, there were still opportunities across regional markets, and emphasized that through collaboration among agencies and producers, businesses could rebound positively.
He noted that should further information be required, participants should contact the national IICA Delegations as well as national producer and manufacturing associations.