From left: Sunny Khatnani (DIVICO), Steven Huang (Sunny Foods), MP Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani, Minister Ottley, Mr. Umesh (CC1), Peter Gittens (Cost Pro), Danny Ramchandani (Fairway Mark It) and Anil Sabnani (Carrefour Market).
PHILIPSBURG--Concerns about the quality of produce from the Dominican Republic (DR) and whether the DR would have the volume needed to satisfy the demand for fruit and vegetables for St. Maarten were amongst concerns raised by local wholesalers who met with Acting Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Omar Ottley on Monday.
During the meeting, the wholesalers also recommended price control on freight for products, reducing the retail cost of fruit and vegetables even when purchased in Miami.
Ottley met with the wholesalers to discuss the proposed produce link with the DR. It was the second meeting in a planned series of discussions with local stakeholders who produce locally or import agricultural products.
Ottley said in a press release that shipping options and a consistent supply of products are also critical moving forward. He said wholesalers had requested that produce from the Dominican Republic be consolidated for each importer to have variety in one container. Doing so will help with the high shipping cost of importing goods to St. Maarten.
He said that currently the Dominican Republic produces oranges, which are shipped to Florida but not to St. Maarten. The wholesalers’ consensus is that the Dominican Republic has the best quality of pineapples, but must improve its consistency in supply.
“They [wholesalers – Ed.] also recommend a price control on freight for products, reducing the retail cost of fruits and vegetables even when purchased in Miami,” it was stated in the release.
Ottley said the wholesalers had applauded the news of a link between the Dominican Republic and St. Maarten for the supply of food products. “They expressed their interest in the idea and acknowledged that this route would indeed lower the purchasing cost to consumers. However, the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication says they raised concerns over whether the DR could supply the volume needed for local consumption.”
According to the release, Ottley has committed to addressing the wholesalers’ concerns with his counterpart minister in the Dominican Republic. He said the meeting had been fruitful, as no one had objected to the initiative. “Thanks to their valuable input, we have a few points which I intend to raise with the Agribusiness Board in the DR and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Affairs and International Cooperation Mr. Hugo Rivera Fernandez.”
Concerns raised by the wholesalers included quality of produce and whether the DR would have the volume needed to satisfy the demand for fruits and vegetables in St. Maarten. “These healthy discussions help to improve the level of our industry. I am convinced that open dialogue will arm the ministry with sufficient information to put together a meaningful solution to the high cost of food products in St. Maarten, which is the ultimate goal,” said Ottley.
When Ottley meets again with his counterpart in the Dominican Republic to discuss supplying St. Maarten with fruits and vegetables, he will raise the concerns brought by the local importers. He intends to seek clarity on the DR’s potential to provide a consistent supply of products to the importers in St. Maarten, it was stated in the release.