By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
MINISTER of Agriculture V Alfred Gray yesterday said he was hopefully that the visit of Haitian president Michel Martelly will cement trade agreements between the two countries.
Opportunities for imports from Haiti’s northern region are expected to stimulate economic activity, and subsequently stem the flow of illegal migration from that area to the Bahamas, said Mr Gray.
He added that a Memorandum of Understanding had already been “hammered out” between the two countries.
Mr Martelly is expected to meet with the private sector tomorrow to discuss trade development. The trip will be his second visit to the country since his controversial speech to countrymen months before the 2012 general election.
Mr Gray said: “I think it is significant that at this juncture in the relationship development of the two countries, Haiti and the Bahamas, that President Martelly is coming here.
“I’m hoping that during his visit there will be bilateral discussions on the relations between the two countries. I’m also hoping the visit that I made to Haiti could be highlighted by both leaders and the Memorandum of Understanding which we have hammered out between the countries might be signed.”
The Memorandum addresses trade and technical cooperation between the two countries for increased business opportunities.
Mr Gray said there was still room for Haitian agriculture imports despite the upcoming launch of the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Research Institute (BAMSRI). He pointed to the Bahamas’ importing of mangoes from Miami as an opportunity to get the fruit directly from Haiti, a major exporter, at a cheaper rate.
Mr Gray said: “We import a hell of a lot of mangoes from Miami, we’re not sure where they are coming from but Haiti also exports to Miami. Why wouldn’t we try and ship it directly to us, and that way we will get mangoes at a cheaper price. We’ve seen the facilities (in Haiti) from which these things are exported. They meet all the [international regulatory] standards - and in my opinion it’s surpassed them.”
He added: “Even with the coming of BAMSRI, we will not be able to supply all that we need in the immediate future. We will be targeting the northern region, where most of these [illegal entry] persons come from.
“It will give them a chance to work and stay there,” he added, “that is the hope, that is the expectation. We expect the Haitian government to enforce that as a policy, because to not enforce it would be business as usual.”
Mr Martelly sparked controversy during his inaugural visit to the country three months before the 2012 general election. Thousands of Haitians and Haitian-Bahamians, who filled the Church of God Auditorium on Joe Farrington Road, were told to organise themselves as a voting bloc to support the political party that will best serve their interests.
Mr Martelly came under heavy criticism for his advice to the community, including from Perry Christie, then the Opposition leader.
Mr Martelly visited the country again in August last year on a short family vacation. At a visit with the Prime Minister, he told reporters the Haitian community was a “powerful” voting force, adding that he was confident that Mr Christie was looking out for Haitians living in the Bahamas.