By Misha Lobban Clarke
At bilateral negotiations held between President of Guyana, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, and the Prime Minister of Barbados, Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, at the margins of the UNCTAD XV hosted in Barbados in October 2021, a decision was taken by both leaders to chart a new paradigm in the relations between their two countries. The new paradigm, they hoped, would allow the peoples of both countries to benefit from an expanded programme of cooperation and investment, including focused discussions on how the agriculture potential of Guyana and Barbados could be utilized to reduce food importation bills as part of the overall regional food security plans. Counterpart meetings were also held at the Ministerial level and between the private sector representatives of both countries with a view to advancing the decisions of the Heads of Government of Guyana and Barbados.
Arising from these exploratory discussions, an invitation was extended by Guyana’s President to the Prime Minister of Barbados to lead a business delegation to Guyana to further discussions on deepening bi-lateral cooperation in areas such as oil and gas, agriculture, tourism and international transport, housing, investment, mining and quarrying, housing and professional services. The Barbados Trade Mission to Guyana – comprising a delegation headed by our PM, with senior governments officials and private sector representatives – was held from February 13 to 17 on the sidelines of the International Energy Conference and Expo – Guyana where the PM of Barbados was scheduled to attend along with other Heads of Government and industry leaders.
As Executive Director of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), I was asked by the Executive Management to join the private sector delegation to provide business support and facilitation for BCCI members who were among the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Mottley to Guyana.
In this SRC Trading Thoughts, I share some of the achievements made during that trip and explain why trade with our big sister from the continent matters to our BCCI Members.
Why Trade with Guyana Matters
The BCCI officially established ties with its Chamber counterparts in Guyana and Suriname through a Tri-partite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in July 2021. That MOU created a framework for the promotion of co-operation and collaboration among the three parties and encouraging opportunities for increased trade and investment between the three countries.
The rationale for our signing of the MOU, and trade missions facilitated thereunder, is to assist Barbadian firms to seek new markets and exposure for their goods and services. Guyana, as a fellow CSME Member State and the fastest growing economy in the western hemisphere, represents a promising market. Barbados traditionally had a trade surplus with Guyana in most years since 2015.
In 2019, Barbados global imports were valued at USD $1,218.77 million (excludes petroleum imports) and exports were valued at USD $236.71 million (excludes petroleum exports). With respect to trade with Guyana, Barbadian exports to the Republic State have grown annually from USD $3.6 million in 1998 to USD $29 million in 2019. Within the last five years, Barbados’ main exports to Guyana have been building cement, wheat products, printed paper, plastic bags and sweet biscuits. In 2019, approximately thirty companies exported products to Guyana contributing to revenues of over USD $25 million from trade. In 2020, Guyana exported USD $137 million in goods to Barbados, while importing USD $31 million, resulting in a trade surplus in Guyana’s favour for that year.
A survey conducted by BCCI of its members in July 2021 found that there was some interest by its members in trading with Guyana. The responses received were limited but instructive as they revealed that some of the companies surveyed were already exporting to those markets but there was a general interest in exploring opportunities for increased trade relations. Food products, asphalt and ‘others’ were some of the products exported by those respondents.
The Barbados-Guyana Trade Mission provided an opportunity to advance the objectives of the existing MOU to leverage existing trade and investment opportunities in Guyana for Barbadian businesses. Of the twenty-eight-member private sector delegation to Guyana, 10 persons representing BCCI member companies from several key sectors including, tourism, mining and quarrying, renewable energy, banking and financial services, business development, retail, shipping, and manufacturing.
What was gained in Guyana?
From the BCCI’s perspective, the Mission was a key input towards meeting our objectives to our members including establishing business to business (B2B) contacts in Guyana, gaining insights into each other’s markets; identifying partnering opportunities and detecting existing barriers to trade. Prior to the Mission, the BCCI had many consultations internally and with other delegation members from Export Barbados and Invest Barbados to ensure that the right private sector companies in Guyana were targeted ahead of the trade mission. Consultations were also held on behalf of members of the business sector with the Guyana Private Sector Commission and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) ahead of the trade visit.
The prior planning was key to our success on this Mission. The Mission provided the BCCI and its participating member companies with greater insights into the Guyana market (business climate, regulations and operating frameworks), cemented existing relations with trade partners, explored other opportunities for investment opportunities and carved out a role for the Chamber in pursuing the joint venture opportunities and bi-lateral trade arrangements entered into between the two countries. The BCCI also held special meetings with the President and CEO of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and established other key contacts that would aid future dialogue. Arising from the Mission, the BCCI has been providing ongoing facilitation and support to its members who are interested in establishing trade partnerships with companies in Guyana. This is being done with the assistance of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) as part of the framework of the tripartite MOU.
While just the first, we are hopeful that this Mission is the beginning of a rewarding relationship with Guyana for members of the business sector. We are already seeing the fruits of that initial engagement in Guyana, and we remain committed as a business support organization, to play a role in advancing trade opportunities for the business sector in Barbados. Already the Prime Minister’s Office has commenced planning for an inbound Mission from Guyana in April 2022 when Barbados will play host to our Guyanese business partners and the BCCI is among the private sector entities that comprise the working group to plan this Inbound Mission.
The BCCI records its appreciation to the Prime Minister’s Office as well as Export Barbados for extending an invitation to participate in the Barbados-Guyana Mission and for the ongoing engagement with the BCCI as the Government advances bilateral trade relations between the two countries.
Mrs. Misha Lobban Clarke is Executive Director of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) For more information, visit our website at www.shridathramphalcentre.com