KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – It was former prime minister Sir James Mitchell who proposed in July 2010 that Vincentian farmers begin growing cocoa to take advantage of increasing demand and rising prices on the international market.
And, a caller to an opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) radio programme yesterday said the retired politician should tell the nation what he thinks about the agreement that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration signed with the London-based Armajaro Trading Ltd., one of the world’s leading suppliers of cocoa and coffee.
“… Mr. Mitchell has not made a public pronouncement since that arrangement has been made between the government and Armajaro,” the caller said in relation to the agreement signed on Aug. 12, 2011
The agreement says that both parties recognised that mutual cooperation can result in the creation of a viable cocoa industry here.
The cocoa industry, according to the agreement, will “not only involve the revitalisation of the agricultural sector but will see the export of cocoa beans that will achieve a high economic value on the word market to the benefits of all parties”.
It also spells out the contribution of each party as Vincentians diversify into cocoa.
But Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace has said that he does not agree with some elements of the agreement, including the number of years for which it is valid, when it will be reviewed, and its granting exclusivity to Armajaro for the purchase of locally-grown cocoa.
The caller to the programme yesterday wanted to know how NDP founder Sir James felts about the agreement.
“Is he satisfied with the arrangement that have been formulated between the government and Armajaro?” the caller said of Sir James, an agrarian, who led this country from 1984 to 2000.
“Is he a part of the … trading off of our rights and our patrimony here? Because you cannot tell me, you coming to us here, we have this fertile land, we have the labour force who is going to go into that and you are putting conditions that are going to be strenuous against the natives here,” the caller said in relation to Armajaro.
“And that’s a very serious situation,” the caller said, adding that the agreement with Armajaro, in its current form, is taking this country “back into mental and economic slavery”.
The caller said that while the diversification into cocoa was a good idea, the agreement reached between the ULP government and Armajaro “doesn’t spell a great future and a great harvest for this nation”.
“I will like for Mr. Mitchell to come out and address the nation and say what your position is on the cocoa issue. If you are happy with what has been hammered out, say, well, I think it is a good deal. If you are not happy, say that I didn’t expect it to go that way and I make certain recommendations,” the caller said.
“I think Mr. James Mitchell has been hiding and he has been doing certain things in the background, which is not in the best interest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said the caller, who also described Sir James as “a statesman [who] has been appreciated for what he has done to this country”.
“Mr. Mitchell, … you have been losing grounds of late. I will not go back to what I witnessed in the last election campaign but I think Mr. Mitchell has done a number on the NDP and I think that Mr. Mitchell should be forthright and come out and state his position and let us know clearly what he thinks about it,” the caller said.
The caller said that Sir James, who has publicly said that Eustace should step down as leader of the NDP, ”would be an issue to the NDP”.
“… the hierarchy in the NDP is going to have to sit down and decide whether they could carry that weight or they are ready to tell Mr. Mitchelll he should declare his policy and his position for the NDP party and, by extension, the country.”
Sir James in 2000 handpicked Eustace to succeed him as NDP leader and prime minister, a position he held from Oct. 27, 2000 to March 28, 2001 when the NDP was voted out of office.
The NDP subsequently re-elected Eustace as its leader but he has led the party to two additional defeats although the party gained four more seats in the December 2010 election.
Eustace, in response to the caller’s comments, said: “I have already responded to Mr. Mitchell on the cocoa project based on the statements he made on television.”
Regarding the cocoa agreement, Eustace noted that the document has been presented to Parliament but the relevant laws have not been passed.
He said he was concerned that the agreement is for 50 years and will only be reviewed until 20 years has passed.
“That is not practical in the world in which we live. This is a free trade world. Trade liberalisation is the order of the day and one expects private sector to be making changes all the time if they are to survive in the current environment,” Eustace said.
“And therefore, we felt that review should take place at an earlier period of time,” he said.
Eustace also said that opposition lawmakers feel that there are some contradictions in the clause that deals with diversification and exclusivity.
“Because what has happened is that there is a provision there which really prevents a local Vincentian producer who is not even connected to Armajaro from even exporting his product.
“I don’t think that is right and we raised that and we have asked the government to raise those matters with Armajaro before they come back to Parliament with the actual law,” he said.
He said there are local cocoa farmers “who are more advanced than the Armajaro project – if you could put it that way – who would like to sell their cocoa to whom they please.
“And they are Vincentians and I don’t think constitutionally we can really stop them from doing so. The Prime Minister tried to make out that he was also of that view when we discussed the matter in Parliament but the agreement itself says you can produce but you can only sell to local cottage industries if you are not selling to Armajaro,” Eustace said.
“So, if a Vincentian wants to export, then he will have a difficulty and we don’t think that is right,” he further stated.
When Sir James proposed diversification into cocoa a convention NDP in July 2010, he had hoped that the party, which he founded in 1975, would have been re-elected to office in the election that came in December of that year.
However, when the ULP was returned to a third term in office, Sir James met — without informing the NDP — with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who had ridiculed the cocoa idea, and convinced him that cocoa was the way to go.