Market Liberalisation in Mauritius is Killing Local Trade

Recently I went to the supermarket and to my surprise, none of the table salts that were up for sale were actually made in Mauritius.  Our island is quite literally the perfect location for salt production, given how islands are usually surrounded by salt water, through which we derive the salt.  We have an important Maritime zone that stretches all the way to the Seychelles and yet we can’t manage to make our own salt?  Sure, we used to produce our own salt at Les Salines, but then we stopped because some very intelligent land developer thought we needed another 4-star hotel instead of salt panels.

 

Point in case, Mauritius had been using the earliest known technique of salt evaporation to make its organic salt.  Contrary to the mass-produced, generic salt that populates the shelves of our supermarkets (courtesy of China), our locally produced salt ensured a self-sufficiency that we now take for granted.  This all happened due to the reckless liberalisation of trade in Mauritius.  Economists have long praised market liberalisation as the impetus behind lower prices, competition, and variety.  But what they often ignore, at the expense of the deterioration of tiny islands like ours, is that market liberalisation often leads to the death of local trade.

 

What is more important, cheaper prices or quality products made by local producers?  Should one prefer the former over the latter, let it be known that China isn’t very reputed for their ethical standards per se.  Chinese products have been found to be subpar and at times, recklessly made. Other types of salt that we import from India, are subject to the same lax standards.  So whether we import the cheapest salt from China or India is a moot point, since we could’ve been making our own, for our own people and we would be sticking to the required standards instead of injecting salt compounds that we know haven’t been obtained naturally.

 

The salt panel at Tamarin has been acquired by a prestigious Hotel group for the purpose of a new Real Estate venture, namely a 4-star hotel. While Tourism is an important sector of our economy, it shouldn’t be the only sector we focus on.  Tourism might pour a considerable amount of revenue in the local coffers, but none of it trickles down to the local population, as evidenced by the poor infrastructure in places where tourists aren’t supposed to go.  Mauritius ought to be a self-sufficient country, depending on its natural strengths instead of attracting foreigners to hotels that haven’t even been built by Mauritians.

 

While most of the revenue from Tourism returns to the parent companies of Hotel groups in foreign countries, our local trade is slowly withering. Our import and export sector are pathetically handled by shortsighted people who do not take into account the real strengths and potentials of local producers.  We have the perfect climate for salt production, for the cultivation of myriads of plants and vegetables and yet we import most of those things from countries which do not even possess the geographic advantage in the production of those products.  But those countries rely extensively on their cheap labor and lax regulations to sell their products the world over, killing local trade in countries like ours.

Mauritius used to rely on its primary strengths to develop its economy and sure, the primary sector has now been overtaken by the textile sector and service sector.  But the production of food and food products isn’t tantamount to merely trade, our lives depend on it and foreign trade sidelines our local producers.  If the situation should arise that foreign trade is no longer a viable option for Mauritius, how would we survive if we can't even manage to produce our own food products?

Veronique Claire

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