Metric Views has received news on the progress of metrication in the Caribbean.
This article deals with metrication in the member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This comprises Haiti, Suriname (a former Dutch colony), and thirteen former British colonies (Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St Kitts & Nevis, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago), with five associate members all of which are former British colonies.
CARICOM began life in 1965 as the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA). In 1972, the Commonwealth Caribbean leaders of government decided to transform the free trade area into a common market (CARICOM), and in 1989 into a single market and economy, of which a key element would be the free movement of goods and services. For readers in the UK this will be a familiar story. And with a single market comes the need for a single system of measurement.
Judy H. Rene, Co-ordinator of the Saint Lucia Metrication Secretariat, takes up the narrative. She writes:
“Documentation on the history of metrication in the Caribbean countries is limited. However, what we do know is that:
In the early 1970’s at a Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) Heads of Government Conference, it was agreed that all member territories would go metric.
Acting on the advice of CARICOM (Caribbean Community) a few years later, the more developed countries took steps to metricate. Barbados, Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago are designated More Developed Countries (MDC) while other members of CARICOM are designated Less Developed Countries (LDC) with the exception of The Bahamas.)
The MDC’s metrication: Trinidad & Tobago began the process in 1973 but did not complete; Jamaica in 1996; Barbados in 1973; Guyana officially in 2003.
Antigua commenced officially in 1974. The last time I visited Antigua and Barbuda in September 2009, I noted that most of their road signs were in metric; however I bought fish at the market that was weighed in lbs. When I enquired, I was told that Antigua was still into a gradual metrication process.
The other LDC’s have not metricated.
Saint Lucia initiated steps towards metrication when a Metrication Committee was set up in 1978.
The Role of that committee was to advise the government on a date when the country should change over to the metric system, and to establish the machinery to facilitate education of the entire country to the transfer. A major achievement of that committee was the introduction of metric into the schools’ curricula. The commercial sector however, continued to use the Imperial system because there was no legislation to enforce change.
The legislative deficiency was addressed by the Metrology Act # 17 of 2000, which makes provision for the SI to be the legal units of measurement in Saint Lucia.
An interim Metrication Committee was established by the Council of the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards in 2001 which reviewed the status of laws with respect to measurement units and the financial and mental preparedness of the public and private sector to metricate.
A new Metrication Board was formally appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers in February 2005. At the official launching in April of 2005, a recommendation was made to revisit the composition of the Board and to propose one that would allow for greater partnership between the private and the public sectors. The change to the structure of the Board was proposed by Dr. A.W. Sangster, Chairman of the Jamaica Metrication Board who offered us technical advice based on the Jamaican metrication experience.
In January 2006, by Cabinet conclusion No. 49 of 2006, a new structure was approved for the Metrication Board and in April 2008 the Chairman and members of the Board were appointed and commenced the implementation phase of the Metrication Project through the setting up of the Saint Lucia Metrication Secretariat. The Board’s first meeting was held on 10 April 2008.
The operations of the Secretariat was primarily initiated and executed by the Chairman prior to the staffing of the Secretariat. This new thrust to metricate was propelled by an EU deadline of 31 December 2009 for implementing the metrication of Saint Lucia, hence, making the Secretariat fully functional was a priority. The EU has since suspended the metrication deadline. Metrication efforts continue in Saint Lucia with public education, sensitization and training etc. in the various sectors.
However, at the Metrication Board meeting on 28 July 2011, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Consumer Affairs informed the Board that due to the state of the economy, budgetary allocation for the Metrication Project by Government would last until 30 September 2011 and that the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Consumer Affairs will conduct an impact assessment of the current metrication process, to determine the way forward and the most cost effective approach. The furtherance of metrication will therefore depend on the recommendations of the consultant.
One of the main motivating factors for metrication in the Caribbean region is that apart from issues related to the facilitation of trade and commerce, metrication is a conditionality for securing funding from the EU.
As far as resistance is concerned, I can only speak for Saint Lucia. Based on our experience, we have encountered some resistance from our consumers and ordinary people, mainly out of fear. Businesses have been quite willing to change. Some concerns of our people were about bread and butter issues, as persons associated the change to metric with an increase in the price of goods. We had to intensify public education in order to dispel that perception. Apart from being a technical change, metrication also involves a cultural transition, hence, the process has posed quite a challenge having to change the mindset of a people steeped in the Imperial System.
Hope you find the foregoing informative and useful.
Judy H. Rene”