Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Elizabeth Morgan | Guyana’s faith in CARICOM

Published:Friday | September 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Guyana's President David Granger recently stated that his government sees Guyana's future in the Caribbean and the Caribbean's future in Guyana. On the verge of becoming an oil-producing country and seeing a turn in its economic fortunes, Guyana continues to embrace CARICOM and is reaching out to the member states as partners.

It has always been my view that within CARICOM, not enough emphasis has been placed on strengthening bilateral relations among the member states, getting to know each other, and forging a strong working relationship. Prime ministers and ministers of CARICOM member states tend mainly to meet at CARICOM events in or out of the region and to have bilateral encounters, if any, in the margins.

 

CARICOM LEADERSHIP

 

Guyana's embrace of CARICOM is underpinned by the fact that it was one of the founding members in 1973 and is the site of the CARICOM Secretariat. Throughout the years, Guyana has provided leadership in CARICOM on agriculture and sustainable development (e.g., low-carbon emissions), among other things. With oil, Guyana is now reaching out to strengthen intra-CARICOM bilateral relations in spite of national and regional challenges that remain.

Persons are concerned about the sustainability of the CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME) and cite Guyana being subject to unfair trade practices and the ill-treatment of its nationals travelling to and working in other CARICOM countries. There is also a border dispute with its contiguous neighbour Suriname. Nevertheless, Guyana remains committed to and sees its future with the Caribbean. The government has signalled that the country is open to investments from within the Caribbean.

Collaboration with T&T commenced almost immediately after it was revealed that there were significant quantities of oil in Guyana. With T&T's experience in the oil industry, Guyana saw cooperation as valuable. It opened a high commission in Port-of-Spain in February 2017. This September, Guyana and T&T signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for collaboration in energy. It was not executed without scepticism in Guyana about T&T's motives and the terms of the MOU.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Guyana would enter into a cooperation agreement with Barbados resulting from discussions held there during the recent meeting of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on the CSME. The editorial in the Barbados Advocate newspaper of September 24 states, "... Barbados must take fresh guard. Guyana, therefore, is one opportunity that Barbados must pursue, given the potential there."

 

STRENGTHENING COOPERATION

 

In July, at the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness had a bilateral meeting with Guyana's president, and both agreed to strengthen cooperation. From 2015, with visits to Georgetown, there was talk of advancing cooperation between the two countries.

In July 2016, Guyana and Belize signed an agreement to deepen commercial, economic, technical and cultural cooperation. In December 2016, Guyana and Suriname had agreed to strengthen cooperation and to revive their Cooperation Council. The reconstituted council met in February 2017.

In an uncertain global trade environment of protectionism, rising nationalism, Brexit and other things, Guyana is of the view that CARICOM, with the CSME, coupled with its oil resources, can be a vehicle to advance regional development.

In this regard, CARICOM needs to look very seriously at its development prospects and existing plans. Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados seems genuinely committed to moving the CSME forward. A conference of CARICOM heads is to be held in Port-of-Spain, December 3-4, to continue the focus on implementation of the CSME.

Guyana is actively inviting the Caribbean's partnership. Let us hope that this outreach is a development opportunity that Caribbean governments and their private sectors will grasp. It should not be proven, down the road, that this Guyanese administration's faith in CARICOM collaboration was misplaced.

- Elizabeth Morgan is an international trade policy specialist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.