The past few months have witnessed a flurry of diplomatic and business activity between Guyana and Barbados as the two CARICOM member states appear to be positioning themselves for closer bilateral relations in the field of investment and commerce. While little by way of concrete agreements in specific areas have been made public up to this time, recent developments including a series of visits to Georgetown by both public and private sector officials from Barbados have heightened speculation that new trade and investment agreements may not be too far away.
Even within the framework of a closely knit CARICOM family Guyana and Barbados are known to have long enjoyed a special relationship. This much was specifically acknowledged by Barbados’s Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley during a visit here early in October at the head of a Barbadian public/private sector delegation to participate in this year’s GUYEXPO and to hold talks with local public sector officials and private sector agencies.
At a public forum hosted by GOINVEST Mottley reminded the audience of the critical role the Guyanese investors paid in the early post-independence development of the Barbadian private sector, just one of the several features that have characterized the ties between the two countries.
Other features of that relationship not covered in Mottley’s address include a sustained pattern of “cross migration” that pre-dated the independence of both countries. The movement of people between Guyana and Barbados has created family ties between Guyanese and Barbadians and witnessed the rise to national prominence of Barbadians in Guyana and vice versa.
Guyana and Barbados have also enjoyed a limited but sustained trading relationship with the Barbadian construction and tourism sectors benefiting from timber, fruit, vegetable and sea food imports from Guyana as well as from the migration from Guyana of Guyanese contractors and carpenters.
In recent years travel by Guyanese to Barbados has been affected by complaints of shabby treatment at the Grantley Adams airport by Barbadian immigration officials, a complaint that Guyanese continue to make despite high-level interventions on both sides in an effort to bring the practice to an end.
It appears, however, that the governments of the two CARICOM states have decided that differences over immigration issues will not restrict the deepening of ties in areas where it is easier to make progress. Earlier this year the Barbados Government named Captain Gerry Gouveia as its Honarary Consul in Guyana. Gouveia’s high profile in the local business community was clearly one of the criteria that influenced the appointment. He has served in executive positions in both the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and the Private Sector Commission and Roramia Airways, the company which he founded has holdings in the local aviation, hotel and nature resort industries. Business, it appears, is the primary focus of Barbados’ interest in Guyana.
The fact that the Barbadian Government appears to have charged its Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley with the task of strengthening that country’s commercial economic links with Guyana is in itself a matter of significance. Mottley appears to have earned the respect of members of the Guyana delegation to the Second Guyana/ China Caribbean Trade and Economic Forum held in Xiamen in September for what one member of the delegation described as her “capable representation of CARICOM’s interests” and her address at a recent forum in Georgetown held to coincide with GUYEXPO reflected an informed and enlightening vision for Guyana/ Barbados cooperation which appeared to be directed as much at her own delegation as at the Guyanese public and private sector officials who attended the meeting.
The push to promote Guyana as a possible centre for Barbadian investment appears to have been assigned to Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud and Chief Executive Officer of GOINVEST, Geoffrey Da Silva. In his address at the recent forum Persaud detailed a long list of investment and trading opportunities between Guyana and Barbados and described the special investment incentives that Barbadian investors can enjoy here.
Few details are as yet available on the Barbadian response to the offer by the Government of Guyana to lease agricultural lands to Barbadian investors at US$5.00 per acre. What is known, however, is that the offer has arisen out of what is known to be a heightened interest on the part of Barbados in enhancing its food security in the light of the emerging global food crisis and a concern on the part of Guyana that more financial and technical inputs be infused into the country’s agricultural sector to support the agro-processing industry and boost employment in rural and hinterland communities.
While the absence of any details on talks between the Barbadian delegation that visited Guyana for GUYEXPO and the Guyana private sector makes the outcome of the visit difficult to evaluate at this time, the Barbadian delegation is reportedly interested in investing in agriculture, agro-processing and areas of light manufacturing.
It is the seemingly sudden convening of a meeting of the Guyana/Barbados Joint Commission, however, that offers the broadest hint of a push to accelerate commercial, economic and investment ties between the two countries. The forum provides a framework for shaping broad agreements in these areas between the two countries.
At last week’s meeting of the Joint Commission in Georgetown, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in Barbados, Teresa Marshall confirmed that it is indeed Deputy Prime Minister Mottley who is “driving” the strengthening of ties between the two countries. Marshall told the opening session of the meeting hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and International Economic Cooperation in Georgetown that she had been instructed to exploit every possible area of cooperation with Guyana. Economic cooperation will no doubt feature prominently in the emerging renewed relationship between Guyana and Barbados.