Pubdate: 9 April 1999
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: of Telegraph Group Limited 1999
Author: Polly Newton, Political Staff


BANANA growers in the Caribbean could switch to marijuana production
after losing preferential treatment from the European Union, it was
claimed yesterday.

The claim was made by Walter Francois, St Lucia's minister of
commerce, after the World Trade Organisation upheld a complaint by
America. The United States objected to the imposition of higher
tariffs on bananas imported to Europe from Latin America than on those
from former colonies of EU states. Mr Francois said the effects of
the decision would be "devastating".

The governments of the Windward Islands, of which St Lucia is one, had
begun a programme of economic diversification, but the banana industry
remained very important. "We cannot compete with the very cheap labour
costs used by the Latin American producers to give them such power,"
he said. "There is the distinct possibility that some people will swap
to the illegal activity of growing drugs such as marijuana."

Hubert Hughes, the chief minister of Anguilla, accused America of
supporting "slave labour". "Producers in Latin America are paying a
pittance to their workers," he said. He feared that the ruling would
force people from the worst affected islands to seek work in places
such as Anguilla, where there were more jobs - but not enough to
absorb the unemployed from across the region.

The World Trade Organisation decision, which may be subject to an
appeal by the EU, has cleared the way for the United States to impose
punitive tariffs totalling UKP120 million against imports from Europe
as compensation for lost banana exports by American-owned companies.

The amount is less than half of that originally demanded by America,
but it is still expected to have a significant effect on certain
British industries, including cashmere production, which is
concentrated in the Borders.

- ---
MAP posted-by: Rich O'Grady