Wednesday, 16 January 2013 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Antigua St. John's - Agriculture Minister Hilson Baptiste has said the proposals submitted to Ciboney Poultry Company in a memorandum of understanding with the Antigua & Barbuda government are just "proposals," as "nothing is set in concrete".
Baptiste said the company, like any other potential investor, had detailed its requirements and requests in the MOU, but the government would not enter into any agreement that would go against its own interest or the interests of the country.
“I will not get involved in anything that will harm the poultry industry in the country,” the minister said. He noted that poultry production has been up, and the government will carefully peruse any proposal and tweak or make changes to whatever does not fit its own policies.
According to the Agriculture minister, the poultry industry in Antigua & Barbuda is a significant one, with imports estimated at about $70 M per year. He said with this significant cash outflow, the government feels duty-bound to do something to stem the leakage. He noted that the proposals set forward by CPC represent one possibility.
Baptiste said he played a role in negotiations with the company, and while he is on board with many of the proposals, there is one area of concern.
“The amount of land that the company is requesting is of concern for me," he said. "The company is to return to us with counter-proposals, as I am not comfortable with their request for lands."
As for the request for land adjacent to the sea, Baptiste said this is not an area of concern, as he understands that the company needs to be able to import containers of feed and other supplies directly onto their property.
“My main concern is what they (CPC) are coming with, what they say they can do, and what they really do if they get the final green light,” he said.
He said no serious government could allow the huge poultry import bill to continue without taking steps to correct the problem.
Caribarena secured a copy of the MOU for the benefit of its readers. (visit caribarena.com)
Meanwhile, Antigua Labour Party (ALP) political leader Gaston Browne also weighed in on the company's proposal to lease 1,000 acres of land.
He said the ALP is not against any project that will provide jobs or help stimulate the economy, but the government should have explored a local option before reaching out to a foreign company.
“If it is that this project is so lucrative, why not put a local group together, because the way this is structured, it will be a virtual monopoly," Browne said on the ALP’s Insight programme. "I don’t see why we should put another monopoly in the hands of a group of foreigners. There are individuals here with wealth, so why not put together a local team and give them the first option, and if they refuse and you have no other option, then you may consider the foreign entity."
He also voiced concern about the request for lands, particularly beachfront land. He said he had spoken with a representative of a group that presented a plan for a poultry project to the government several years ago, with a request for no more than 50 acres.
The ALP leader said he agrees that the CPC proposals may be part of a "land-grab".