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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 00:44 GMT

World: Americas

St Vincent hit by banana war

St Vincent's 3,500 farmers take home £80 each on a good week

Caribbean banana farmers say they are already beginning to feel the effects of a trade dispute between the US and Europe.

George Alagiah: It is a choice between multinationals and small-scale farmers
Caribbean governments are angry at US efforts to make the World Trade Organisation revoke their preferential trading arrangements with Europe.

In the tiny east Caribbean islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines, banana farmers say they are already suffering as a result of the transatlantic rift.

The BBC's George Alagiah, who has been to the islands, says it is a war between free trade and fair trade.

St Vincent has about 3,500 banana farmers on small, family-owned plots of about three acres. They rely on selling to Europe.

'Begging for bread'

The farmers, who produce half the island's export market, earn about £80 ($130) in a good week.

[ image: Fitzroy Brown:
Fitzroy Brown: "It is sad to be the loser"
One of them, Fitzroy Brown, said: "We will be suffering in this country and begging for our bread because we depend on the bananas."

Official unemployment on the island stands at more than 30%, but correspondents say this could well be an underestimate.

Sir James Mitchell, Premier of St Vincent and the Grenadines says: "We are talking about a war between 25,000 farmers in a property-owning democracy in the Caribbean and one plantation owner and 19th Century slavery in Latin America."

Our correspondent says that St Vincent's government knows it must diversify but it will not replace family-run farms with plantations - for them that would be a throwback to the island's bleak history.

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