Guyana needs to strengthen its diplomatic efforts with Suriname in order to capitalize on numerous opportunities that exist between the two nations.
In 2010, Guyana imported approximately US$96 million in goods from Suriname – which roughly equals the value of imports from Venezuela and is significantly higher than the amount imported from Brazil (about US$21 million). Meanwhile, Guyana exported goods approximately worth US$6 million to Suriname, according to numbers from the government’s Bureau of Statistics.
I would suggest that if trade data were captured for the value of goods not declared with the revenue agency, the totals for Surinamese imports and exports would have been significantly higher. It is no secret that smuggling is rampant at the borders between Guyana and Suriname, which is exacerbated by the infamous ‘back-track’ operations that, have for the most part, become an accepted practice between the two countries (see ‘Suriname to reopen “backtrack“ route,‘ SN 24.8.09). However, Surinamese officials would prefer to see this situation ‘regularized’ but this has been strongly resisted by their Guyanese counterparts (see ‘Gov’t declines proposal to regularize Suriname “back-track” route,’ SN 10.2.10).
Therefore, it was no surprise to read recently that the Surinamese are contemplating funding a bridge that would link the two countries (see ‘Suriname may fund Corentyne River bridge,’ SN July 17). Suriname would like to capitalize on the enormous trade opportunities available with Guyana as both countries can be considered ‘natural trading partners’ because they both export a wide variety of goods to each other. In fact, the data obtained from Guyana’s Bureau of Statistics show that, in terms of imports and exports, Guyana offers the most diverse basket of goods with Suriname than what is possible with any of its South American counterparts.
At present, the high cost of acquiring fuel from the international market represents one of the most significant constraints in Guyana’s economy. As Suriname is an oil-producing nation, Guyana can negotiate a bilateral arrangement that could result in the Surinamese offering the country lower rate costs to acquire petroleum. Additionally, Guyana should engage the Surinamese private sector and government to learn from their experience regarding the construction, development, and maintenance of the Afobaka hydropower plant that supplies the majority of Suriname’s electricity.
Another issue requiring prominent diplomatic focus is Surinamese President Desi Bouterse’s renewed claim of the New River Triangle area and his contention that his country will pursue a “friendly settlement“ of this issue by way of international law and norms. I disagree with President Jagdeo’s shrugging off the issue, saying he was “not disturbed“ by Suriname’s recent claims (See ‘Guyana unperturbed by Suriname’s New River Triangle claims – President,’ GT June 16). The Guyana government must remain vigilant in expanding its diplomatic efforts to ensure this situation is adequately monitored. The government cannot afford to be reactive in its diplomatic affairs, as was the case with the CGX expulsion in 2000. Moreover, positively directed diplomatic manoeuvres are essential to assuaging any fears or doubts investors might have amid the present claims put forth by Suriname.
Suriname is one of the region’s most robust emerging economies and Guyana certainly has much to gain from closer relations with its neighbour. However, much of how a mutually beneficial, trusting relationship is established will depend on the strength and capabilities of our performance in foreign affairs.
Guyana faces comprehensive challenges in assessing the rapidly shifting dynamics in the contemporary global environment and, most particularly, in the surrounding region. Therefore, its foreign policy portfolio should be directly tailored to address these new realities, articulate priority areas of focus for capital and resources disbursement and to enact a policy course for strengthening our nation’s foreign service programmes.