A Lesson to be Learned from the Past The Myers rum brand was created by Fred Myers in Jamaica in 1879. In the period from the 1920s through the 1950s, it was arguably the most famous and most prestigious of all Jamaica rum brands. It produced a range of Jamaica aged rums including releases over 40 years old. Myers’ prominent advertising indicated that the rum was matured solely in Jamaica under “the eyes of Government”, and that such supervision was an “assurance of purity and genuine age”. The brand was bottled in Jamaica under bond and only “pure water and caramel [colour*]” were allowed to be added in accordance with Jamaica Excise law. Caramel colour is not to be confused with caramel used in baking and confectionary. The colour is used to adjust the colour of spirits for consistency between batches.

The brand was sold in the 1950s to the Canadian Seagrams corporation which migrated maturation and bottling operations outside of Jamaica. Since leaving Jamaica, the brand has been on a slow decline in quality, if not in volume, and today the brand has no aged rum releases and sells but a token amount in Jamaica. The Seagrams operations were acquired by DIAGEO in 2001. In a letter of October 2008, the legal representative for DIAGEO requested a US Customs classification ruling of ‘rum’ for:

“The subject merchandise consists of two rum products to be imported from Canada in bulk (over 4 litres). Both of the products will have the same ingredients. In addition to rum, the products will include a flavor enhancer (neutral grain spirits, quinine, propylene glycol and water) and Canadian Fortified Wine (“CFW”). The flavor enhancer and the CFW will represent less than 3.5 percent by volume of the finished blend. Both of the subject products will be further processed after importation and will be bottled and sold as [100% FINE JAMAICAN] Myers Rum.”

From “pure water and caramel (colour)” to added flavour enhancer.

From matured and bottled in Jamaica under bond to bulk export to Canada.

From indigenous value added product to neo-colonial export business model. How could this happen? And could it happen here?

Barbados Rum Exports

Rum storage area at Foursquare Distillery

In 1980, Rum exports were just 3.5 million dollars and lagged far behind exports of sugar (over 100 million dollars), molasses, margarine, food & beverages, chemicals, electrical components, clothing, even sports equipment, and almost all of that was in bulk form for value added outside of the Island. The production of bulk rum for the Malibu flavoured rum brand in the early 90s saw Barbados rum exports increase significantly. But, with little value added earned in Barbados, the economic impact was minimal. The Malibu brand was sold in 2002 for USD 800 million. The Barbados Distillery, still with Malibu production contract in hand, in a deal comprising a rum brand and two distilleries, was sold in 2017 for a reported USD 12.5 million. You do not need to be a professor of economics to understand where the value of the Malibu brand is earned.

This story is a familiar one in the colonial West Indies. Whether it is sugar, molasses, rum, bauxite or coffee, under the colonial model goods leave as basic commodities for most of the value to be added in the ‘mother’ country. Bulk brown sugar and molasses left in the ships hold to be sold in European supermarkets as packaged and branded granulated sugar and treacle respectively. Rum for most of the near 400 year anglophone Caribbean tradition has been shipped as a commodity to be ultimately sold by European owned brands. A bulk raw sugar industry which exported more than 100 million dollars in 1980 is now worthless.

Today, with rum exports around 85 million dollars (having now exceeded all other categories), that colonial model is on the reverse. Foursquare and Mount Gay export value added indigenous rum brands produced from sugar cane to bottle on island, and account for about 60% of Barbados Rum exports by value, despite only representing about 20% of distilled molasses production. Moving to robust, extra-regional branded exports is the key defining feature behind the success of rum in comparison to the sugar industry.

The rest of distillation on island remains for low value bulk exports of either unaged rum or neutral alcohol distilled from molasses (unfortunately often incorrectly lumped with rum exports) for value addition abroad. Near to half of the bulk rum exports is for the Malibu brand. This side of the rum industry has fared little better than sugar, forcing the island’s leading conglomerate Goddard’s to completely withdraw from rum in 2017.

The Case of Demerara

Historically, the province of Demerara was one of the largest producers of rum in the British West Indies. Until as recently as the 1990s, Guyana’s rum exports were exclusively bulk shipments, primarily to UK owned brands, bottled and sold in the UK. With the privatisation of Demerara Distillers (DDL) in 1988, the sole remaining rum distiller in Guyana then embarked on a brand development strategy to develop branded/bottled rum exports. DDL chairman, Komal Samaroo, reflected recently in an address to the Guyana Chamber of Commerce:

“I will venture to say that had DDL not embarked on a new [brand development] strategy more than 25 years ago, it would have today been in an even worse position than the sugar industry”.

In 2015, for the first time in their history, the value of bottled branded rum exports was greater than bulk exports.

Rules of Provenance

The story of Myers is a warning from the past. Today’s value added industry could be reversed as easily as it was for Myers. Maturation and bottling of rum could move offshore (where it is cheaper) and quality compromised as international brands put profits ahead of protecting the reputation of the island’s most famous export. A similar scenario could happen with rum. The more valuable the provenance of Barbados Rum, the more likely the value will be exploited and appropriated. Production volumes may yet increase, but with less and less value added locally.

The rules of provenance within the EU may come as a surprise. There is no assurance that a bottle of ‘Barbados Rum’ or ‘Jamaica Rum’ sold within the EU actually contains 100% Rum distilled from those respective countries. It certainly gives no assurance on maturation or bottling either. Under Article 14 of the EU spirits regulations, a country of origin is not even required. Moreover, the stated provenance is a rather fluid one – provenance can simply be where its “essential character and essential definitive qualities” took place.

An adulterated Barbados Rum on a shelf in the EU will be legal under Article 14 and won’t violate our EPA trade agreement either. A bulk tanker of Barbados Rum to Europe will need to meet the CARICOM rules of origin to gain tariff free access. But, once further transformed into a bottled spirit product within the EU, Article 14 applies. Value added and cumulation rules are also part of our EPA. This would mean, in theory, that a tank of blended Barbados and Guatemalan rum could enter the EU as a CARICOM product, once it meets the value added rule. That rule would be met once sufficient, but not necessarily all, of the value of the contents came from Barbados.

So there is no existing legal framework to protect Barbados Rum from adulterated products in export markets. There is no legal framework to protect maturation, branding, bottling or management operations to remain in Barbados. And Government remains seemingly oblivious.

Reversing or reducing local value added is not just a threat to local manufacturing but also increasingly seen in our other forex generating industry, where rapacious cruise lines and hotel chains demand to market and exploit the Barbados destination free of taxation, while using business schemes to shift income offshore. On achieving office, our Prime Minister lamented that despite record levels of tourism arrivals, income from tourism was less than it was a decade ago. Despite the observation, as far as I am aware, nothing has been done to reverse it.

Future Proofing Barbados Rum

Sugar cane harvesting at Mount Gay

Barbados Rum can be protected. And the tool for protection is to register ‘Barbados Rum’ as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in export markets. When a PGI is registered in an export market, a technical file is submitted outlining how the product is made and the required quality and integrity standards. Registration supersedes local generic rules, such as Article 14 or the value added provisions of broad trade agreements.

It was once Government policy to seek the registration of a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Barbados Rum with the local Intellectual Property office (CAIPO). Much fanfare and a press-release surrounded the application by the BIDC with CAIPO back in 2016, the first PGI application to be submitted under the relatively new Barbados Geographical Indications Act.

During a ceremony organised to celebrate the application the Minister for International Business, commented:

“We also recognise the tremendous economic benefit to Barbados that will be derived from such, and that is why we are forging ahead, taking this as the first one”

Since 2018, the new Government has apparently abandoned the process and our producer-led applications with CAIPO (filed in 2020) have largely been ignored.

Demerara Rum was the first product registered under the new Guyana Geographical Indications Act in 2017. In 2021, recognition in the European Union was secured. With applications in the European Union pending for Venezuela and Cuba, in addition to the already secured registrations for Demerara, Martinique and Guadeloupe, Barbados risks being left behind.

PGIs generally apply to agricultural products, in particular, wines and spirits. A PGI says the origin of this product is more than simply the location of the factory. If you were to move the equipment at Foursquare to another country, the same output cannot be achieved. That is because the rum is markedly influenced by the local microflora and microfauna, and the climate in which it is produced. The growing of the cane, the mineral quality of our water, the microflora of fermentation and the climate of maturation all shape the flavour and quality of the rum.

Generally, the developing world has been slow to register and protect the Intellectual Property of its Agricultural Products. The Europeans have been leaders in this area. ‘Scotch Whisky’ a whisky made in Scotland, ‘Cognac’ a Brandy made in the Cognac commune of France, or ‘Champagne’ a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, are all examples of protected domains that have been successfully developed into billion dollar export industries.

A PGI for Barbados Rum will be the tool by which we can reverse the colonial economic model. We can shift rum production from un-aged to aged. From bulk sales to packaged brands bottled in Barbados. It can be the tool by which we can cease importing molasses to once again rely entirely on local sugar cane.

Today, the market demands and rewards authenticity. We can deliver this and communicate these distinctions using the PGI. The PGI will be the tool which will make Barbados Rum immune to whether the brands are foreign or locally owned. It will be the tool that will ensure only firms of the right ethos will desire to invest in Barbados Rum.

Most importantly, it will anchor the production of indigenous brands to the island, and it will protect the integrity and quality of products bearing the marque of Barbados Rum.