A very Caribbean muddle

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:

History

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.)

MDC’s Metrication

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.

LDC’s Metrication

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.

Motivating factor

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.

Resistance

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.

Regards

Judy H. Rene”

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12 Responses to A very Caribbean muddle

  1. Ezra Steinberg says:

    How sad for us here in the States that both the UK and all of Britain's former colonies have converted to metric, are substantially metric, or are substantively in the process of converting to metric. The USA is the lone hold-out! (Even Liberia and Burma are apparently gradually converting because of the influence of all of their neighbors.)

    One bit of good news is that more and more packaging in the USA is showing up in rational metric quantities, although US Customary units (our version of Imperial) must still be used alongside the metric units (or vice versa).

    Some day (within the next few years?) our Congress will finally amend the FPLA (Fair Packaging and Labeling Act) to allow voluntary metric-only labeling, something that NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has advocated for a number of years now. This will likely result in an explosion of metric-only product packaging here in the States. That will at least give us a start in the right direction!

    In the meantime good on CARICOM and St. Lucia's Judy Rene for having the vision to move into the 21st century with the modern international system of units, the SI. 🙂

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  2. kPa says:

    The letter above from Judy was in response to a question I posed to her a few weeks back. I wasn't surprised at her answers as in doing my own research found that many of these nations made decisions to "finish" metrication over a decade ago, but did little to follow through. Every so often they bring the issue to the front burner as a response to some pressure from the marketplace.

    Road metrication came about quickly in many of these countries due mainly to the importation of right-hand vehicles from Japan which does not convert the dashboard display to imperial. These countries are too insignificant to force foreign manufacturers to accommodate their non-metricness.

    Much of the drive a few years ago had to do with the EU directive, but when the directive was cancelled the pressure was off and everyone went back to sleep.

    The only motivating drive presently would have to be related to the continued importation of metric products from Europe and Asia. Since the US produces next to nothing, few in these countries will be influenced by USC products from the US in their markets. The fact that the EU continues to make metrication a condition of aid is a positive step.

    Overcoming the fear to change among the population is not difficult. All that needs to be done is a strong public education program that emphasizes that the growing economies are metric and the those countries resisting metrication are losing their affluent status and moving towards poverty. Metrication has to be seen as a movement towards improved living conditions by being a means to attract high valued jobs.

    As long as the Caribbean Countries derive most of their income from the tourist industry or banking and never make any efforts to develop a technological economy, I don't see much progress being made. It is also boils down to the chicken and egg syndrome. That is what must come first? Must the jobs come first to motivate the population to metricate or must the population metricate first in order to attract the high end jobs?

    The answer is simple, they must change first as there are plenty of metric countries for business and industry to establish themselves in, they don't need non-metric people and will easily overlook countries where the population continues to resist metrication.

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  3. M says:

    The Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards' web page on metrication can be found at the following link:
    http://abbs.gov.ag/standards_info/metrication.htm

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  4. kPa says:

    In the article, Judy mentioned her experience with Antigua and Barbuda. When you go to the Antigua and Barbuda government homepage, the units of measure appearing are strictly Imperial/USC.

    http://www.antigua-barbuda.org/index.htm

    It is as if they are only trying to reach either the US or UK vacationers as they make no attempt to communicate using international units.

    Another article:

    http://www.thenassauguardian.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12739&Itemid=86

    shows how important the Bahamas feels about Caribbean-Chinese trade and how much effort is being put into cultivating it. The Chinese are investing in trade, infrastructure improvements, agriculture, training programs & seminars and tourism.

    It will not be possible for some of these investments to blossom properly unless there is advanced metrication in the Caribbean region and if the Chinese don't want to see their investment wasted they may be pressing the islanders to complete metrication. The greater the Chinese presence is in a particular country, the greater the motivation to metricate. So it isn't just the EU.

    When we get back to the issue of business, it is important that the Caribbean countries communicate to the world via their home web pages using metric terms as these are the units 95+% of the world's people understand.

    The world is changing and those nations that don't move forward will be left behind. The time for putting off until tomorrow what should have been done yesterday is the best way to assure that you won't get invited to the party.

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  5. John Frewen-Lord says:

    For many years I was a consultant on the Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau and the Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport - and all of my work had to be in imperial units. Part (though not all) of that was due to the use of powerful US consultants in the Hospitals' planning. But the locals, from the Prime Minister on down (whom I met on a couple of occasions), seemed happy to discuss everything in imperial units.

    On my last visit, in 2007, all road signs were still in miles, and most products were in imperial units. Because the Bahamas relies so heavily on US tourists, and feels (in my view, erroneously) that they cannot upset them in any way (or they'll go elsewhere), converting to the metric system will only happen under the influence of some overriding force or legislation.

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  6. derekp says:

    The Coordinator at the St Lucia Metrication Secretariat has provided this update on progress:

    "Our road signs are being changed gradually, old worn out road signs are slowly being replaced by metric signs.
    The weather forecasts and reports over radio and TV are done in both metric and imperial. This will continue unless the pronouncement for the legal adoption of the metric system is made by the Minister responsible for Commerce. The Metrology Act #17 of 2000 is already in place.
    All exports of products from Saint Lucia are done in metric e.g. bananas, cut flowers, ground provisions, etc.
    All imports of goods are received in metric (except for some items from certain parts of the U.S. which are still in USC/Imperial).
    The largest supermarket chain of companies Consolidated Foods Limited (CFL) has gone metric. The most recent supermarket to open its doors to consumers – gl Food Market at the new Bay Walk Mall is fully metricated.
    88% of fuel dispensers converted to metric as at August 2010; SOL was at 85 %, Chevron at 97 % and independent stations were at 63 %; there are still three private petrol station owners who are struggling to metricate due to their incapability to purchase new pumps (dispensers).
    Customs and Excise Department is 100% metricated having recently upgraded operations with the Asycuda World programme.
    Utilities Sector is metricated with the exception of the Water and Sewage Company (WASCO), (the company requires help to replace imperial water meters throughout the island and the installation of a metric billing system).
    Health Sub-sector is approximately 80% metricated; formulation of a metric policy is required.
    The Development Control Authority (DCA) established a public policy (June 2011) that house plans submitted for the consideration of the DCA must be in metric and imperial.
    Education and Training Sector – 90% prepared; pending a text book review for the Departments of Home Economics and Technical Drawing;
    Agricultural Sector is approximately - 80% (however, fishermen and vendors urgently require metric scales; some scales were received, however, the after an inspection of the scales by the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards the Saint Lucia Metrication Secretariat was advised against using them since they were not pattern approved and hence were not legal for trade.)
    Central and Local Government Sector – 50%; work on inter-operability is required in that sector.
    Public Relations and Information Sector - much work is required in that Sector.
    Wholesale, Retail and Distributive Trade Sector is approximately 60% metricated. The remaining 40% includes those small businesses in the rural areas awaiting assistance with training and retooling (the provision of metric scales is required).
    Manufacturing and Processing Sector is 100% ready.
    Building and Engineering Construction Sector is approximately 60% metricated. However, much work is required in the plumbing and construction sub-sectors (need to develop metric training modules, booklets, brochures, and a metric construction guide; work has commenced on the preparation of the guide).
    Standardization Sector encompasses: Calibration Services; Metric Standards and Weights and Measures. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Notification G/TBT/N/LCA/49 on Saint Lucia’s metrication was prepared and dispatched to the WTO and has been posted on the WTO website; the Draft Legal and Standard Units of Measurement Order for metrication of the Petroleum sub-sector was submitted to the Ministry of Commerce in preparation for the pronouncement of that sub-sector’s transition to metric. Calibration of equipment is ongoing, however, requests for calibration surpass the capacity of the Metrology Department.
    The Saint Lucia Metric Practice Guide was completed and officially launched on 1 September 2011.
    The Metric Pocket Guide has been drafted and is presently being edited for printing.
    An impact assessment is currently being carried out by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Consumer Affairs to determine the status of the implementation of the metrication process to date and to make recommendations on the way forward.

    Several companies are currently in a state of transition. Mention must be made of A.F. Valmont and Company Ltd. which formally announced its implementation of the metric system on October 12, 2010. Another large wholesale and retail company - Bryden and Partners Limited informed the Metrication Secretariat in October 2011 of its transition to the metric system."

    This does remind us of how much work is involved in the metric changeover and how far down the road we have travelled in the UK. Just a shame about the dinosaurs at the DfT.

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  7. Ronnie Cohen says:

    Derek made a very poignant remark when he said that "with a single market comes the need for a single system of measurement". Many British politicians refuse to accept this basic principle. By resisting full metrication and causing absurd anomalies in our measurement system, the our political leaders refuse to accept this basic principle for the European single market. The Republic of Ireland completed its transition to the metric system about 5 years ago, leaving the UK totally isolated in holding out for the old measurements.

    British politicians want the benefits of the single market but will not accept the compromises about common rules, including common measurements, that it requires. There are many eurosceptics who associate the metric system with the European Union and want nothing to do with it. Thus, they prefer to continue using an obsolete, inadequate and inferior measurement system (i.e. the imperial system) rather than completing the transition to the metric system. They do us no favours in the EU and no favours for the rest of us.

    They should look at the examples of the CARICOM countries in their efforts to move to the metric system, where there is none of the emotion and sentimentality about the use of measurements.

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  8. John Smith says:

    I'm confused. On the one hand, I see in the comments "US, Liberia, Myanmar," on e other I see that that is very clearly not the case, as the Caribbean is not converted. One of the most non-metric countries, with USC-only labeling, is actually Belize, described by a US Metric Association member or supporter as such.

    So how can you have it both ways? It's just three countries, according to forced metric campaigners, except in their own words when it very clearly isn't. That's propaganda, plain and simple.

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  9. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Even more confusing is that Myanmar is now officially working to convert to metric (and get rid of a bunch of local units not used anywhere else in the world).

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  10. Michael Glass says:

    The problem lies in the quality of information supplied by the CIA Handbook. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World_Factbook#Factual for evidence of questionable or frankly unreliable information in the handbook.

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  11. John Smith says:

    Ezra, well, officially they are converting, just like the US has been"converting" for 36 years. A signed government document is just a piece of paper. You admit that the CIA "list" is completely inaccurate, right? The Caribbean, Canada, even Mexico and Central America aren't fully metric. The UK most certainly isn't converted to metric.

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  12. Steve Dancey says:

    The metric system is not always best! If a UK police department has issued a description of a suspect it will always be in feet and inches as that is what people (even teenagers) relate to. I've never ever heard them use metric measurements. Likewise baby weights are always lbs and ounces, clothing is always in inches, beer always in pints and property always sold per square foot. I could go on, Imperial measure are easy to live with but the metric system, no - let the Europeans keep it in their stagnant economy..
    PS even continental soccer pitches are in yards and the gaols are 8ft by 16 ft with the free kicks 10 yards from opposition player (oops I'm sorry 9.1 metres).
    Stop trying to bully people, especially small countries, into using something they don't want.

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