By Alecia Smith
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) — The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) has launched a special assistance programme to provide grant support to firms exporting food products to the United States.
This new facility is in line with the agency’s efforts to ensure that firms within Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region are able to meet the requirements of the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) as well as other global food safety regulations.
Companies will be able to access up to €5,000 to conduct gap audits as they prepare to meet the regulations and the increased inspections to be carried out under the new Act by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), commencing in January, 2012.
Speaking at the launch held on Wednesday in New Kingston, senior advisor, market intelligence, Caribbean Export, David Gomez, informed that the entity will benefit food producers and exporters across the CARIFORUM region (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) and is intended to complement other initiatives being undertaken at the national and regional levels.
“What we want to do is to be able to play a critical role in brokering the right types of arrangements that allow you to move forward with a benefit package that is meaningful and allows you to achieve the kind of certification and allows you to access and remain competitive in those markets,” he stated.
He informed that the €5,000, which is being provided under a €500,000 facility, will enable companies to conduct diagnostics “to determine what is necessary, what is needed”.
“The information that comes back from that, hopefully we will take that and sit with our partners and craft and articulate and design a broader response and preparedness strategy that can be implemented at the national level and that hopefully can be rolled out with some best practices at the regional level. We believe that Jamaica was key for doing this (as the country) is certainly ahead of the game…and we feel that a lot of the practices and what is undertaken here could certainly be used to benefit other food producers across the region,” he said.
Gomez noted that, while the facility is being rolled out in Jamaica initially, it is available to the entire region “and we hope to be able to provide diagnostics for between 20 and 40 companies here and then, given what the numbers are across the region, hopefully we can increase that.”
Funds can also be accessed through a direct assistance grant scheme, which provides financial support to small businesses that are seeking to build capacity with the aim of exporting.
“Caribbean Export is then positioned to provide some assistance in engaging the strategic partnerships to ensure that any other funds that are available out there for us becomes accessible in a meaningful way to companies,” Gomez stated.
President of the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA), Vitus Evans, said the FSMA requires greater accountability from exporters and systematic, scientific proof that all steps are being taken to ensure that food products going into the US are safe for human and animal consumption.
He said that while the implementation of the Act will directly impact the country as close to 50 percent of Jamaica’s non-traditional food exports go to the US market, he pointed out that there are positives to be derived, as implementing compliance systems will enhance competitiveness and market access globally.
“We also need to be mindful that all companies producing for consumption in the US would be affected, therefore, the ones that are able to comply first, would have the advantage in that market. As a result, Jamaican exporters and exporters from the region will have to make fundamental changes to ensure that their facilities and their record-keeping systems are compliant with the FSMA,” he pointed out.
Evans said the JEA “stands ready to work with the national taskforce (set up by the Government) and all other partners to assist companies with becoming compliant with the regulations.”
Established in 1996 by an inter-governmental agreement as the trade promotion agency of the 15 member states of CARIFORUM, Caribbean Export has the mission to increase the competitiveness of Caribbean countries by providing quality trade and investment development and promotion services through effective programme execution and strategic partnerships.
Based in Barbados, it is the only regional trade and investment promotion agency in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group.