Rum, the sugar-based liquor that has fueled the development of the Caribbean for centuries, has become the focus of an increasingly bitter dispute with the U.S.
Small producers in countries such as Antigua, Guyana and Jamaica complain they are being punched by unfair trade and marketing advantages for global beverage corporations operating in U.S. territories, and say U.S. rum subsidies threaten to drive some beloved top-shelf Caribbean labels out of business, or force them to sell out.
"The amounts that are being doled out now are staggering," said Frank Ward, chairman of the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers' Association. "We were able to live with the level of U.S. subsidies as they once were. But the massive increases, we believe, have skewed the market."
It's a high stakes battle because rum, first developed on Caribbean sugar plantations in the 17th century and deeply engrained in local culture and history, is one of the few competitive industries for the tourism-dependent region's tiny, vulnerable economies. The tipple, which can range from colorless to coppery, from almost tasteless to richly layered, generates roughly $500 million in foreign exchange for independent Caribbean countries and more than $250 million in tax revenue.
[Continue reading at: NBC News]