By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
AGRICULTURE and Marine Resources Minister V Alfred Gray yesterday said a ban on chicken imports could be forthcoming unless wholesalers comply with a policy geared to support the purchase of Bahamian products.
That policy, the Minister said, has sanctioned the Bahamian wholesale buyer to show that a specific percentage of their inventory was purchased from local farmers. As it stands, the majority of chickens sold in the Bahamas are from Brazil.
Mr Gray made the statement at a press conference to announce the official opening of the crawfish season which begins in less than a week.
"At this moment,” he said, “there is in place a policy, where the Bahamian buyer must show that he purchases 30 per cent of the chicken he needs, (or) 30 per cent of the eggs he needs, in order to get a permit to bring in 70 per cent.
"I intend to stop the import if that must happen, so I beg them to cooperate so we don't heighten or raise the bar.
"I am not saying that I have done it today, but if they continue to avoid buying locally, that will be the next step."
He added that those plans are still subject to Cabinet's approval.
The announcement was prompted, Mr Gray said, as the compliance level by wholesalers with the stipulation is at an estimated 50 per cent.
"We met with about 12 (or) 13 buying, either company or individuals, and I would say about 6 or 7 are complying with what we say. Unless all of them do it, there will be no affect on the bottom line because the larger purchasers use 700 to 800 cases per week. If all of them buy 30 per cent of what they need, 200 (or) 300 hundred cases, I would think that would be a good start," the Minister said.
Admitting that to import from Brazil is cheaper, Mr Gray said Bahamians would be at an advantage if the government makes every effort to stimulate the local market.
"I do not intend to sit here and encourage farmers to get involved in the production of Bahamian food only to be in a position where I must admit that the Brazilian chicken is coming in a few cents cheaper. But what price do you pay for Bahamianisation?
"I'd rather help a Bahamian with five cents more on the chicken, than to pay five cents or 10 cents less and help the Brazilian because that’s who we (are) helping to stay employed," Mr Gray said.