Rum Producers Tackle Competitiveness Challenges in Trinidad Meeting

Regional rum producers, members of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association, WIRSPA, completed a round of meetings in Trinidad last week. As the region’s largest agro-based export product, industry leaders addressed a range of issues which impact the ability of the sector to achieve international competitiveness.

Speaking at a tasting of Authentic Caribbean Rums, hosted by the House of Angostura in their Hospitality booth at the Queen’s Park Oval, was the Chairman of WIRSPA and head of the Guyana conglomerate Demerara Distillers (DDL), Komal Samaroo. He noted that although the sector’s brands were positioned as high-quality products in the premium and super-premium segments of the market, many competing brands received incentives and subsidies which resulted in a highly unequal playing field.

According to Samaroo, a key thrust for the sector is an international drive to protect authentic origin, “our brands are anchored in the unique history and heritage of our countries“, he said, “and our quality and provenance are underpinned by true origin, products that are fermented and distilled in our respective countries”. He observed that “many so-called premium products are assembled from various origins, without any authenticity or true origin, and flouting rum rules.”

Referencing the decreasing availability of regional molasses, Samaroo added that producers were challenged with raw materials constraints on one end and facing subsidised products in the market at the other end.

Referring to DDL efforts to support the local sugar industry in Guyana as a mean of securing molasses supplies, he noted that several other producers were moving in the same direction. These moves, he said, “can only redound to the benefit of our countries by maintaining employment in agriculture and increasing local value added“.

Senior technical staff of the region’s rum producers

His remarks were echoed by Chairman of Angostura, Dr. Rolph Balgobin, who in his remarks noted that his board had also tasked the management of Angostura to “provide an analysis of whether we should get into sugarcane production for the purpose of producing molasses.”

Senator the Honourable Paula Gopee-Scoon, Trinidad’s Minister of Trade and industry, in her remarks congratulated the sector on their achievement of world class quality and drive for international competitiveness. Noting that CARICOM trade ministers had recently formed a special working group to examine factors impacting the competitiveness of the sector, she committed “to working with colleague ministers and industry representatives to ensure that the industry receives the support it needs as the flagship export sector of the region”.

In confirming the industry’s contribution to the regional economy, and close linkages with agriculture and tourism, the WIRSPA Chairman also emphasised the moral imperative of the industry to ensure that its products were not abused. According to Samaroo “while we believe that our products, consumed responsibly, are part of a healthy lifestyle, we are aware of the tremendous impact on our societies of harmful consumption”.

Rum producers had a moral obligation to act, he said, and had formed a task force at the meeting in Trinidad to strengthen actions to address these issues and to engage stakeholders on practical ways of tackling the very real problem of alcohol abuse.

The meeting in Trinidad re-elected Samaroo as Chairman of the group for the ensuing year, supported by an Executive Committee from Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St. Lucia.

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