Guyana/Suriname business forum to discuss trade, smuggling, piracy

- Upper Corentyne Chamber President

Planning is underway among businessmen in Berbice and Suriname for the staging of a major business summit between the two sides, which Upper Corentyne business officials say seeks to regularise trade and widen business relations between enterprises on both sides of the Corentyne River.

On Tuesday Stabroek Business spoke with President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce Abraham Subnauth who disclosed that his Chamber was partnering with the Central Corentyne Chamber, the Berbice (New Amsterdam) Chamber and the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) to host a two-day forum with the Surinamese business community under the theme ‘Bringing Business Together: Guyana/Suriname’. He said the purpose of the forum, which is tentatively scheduled for January 16 -17 in the Corentyne was to identify and, as far as possible, seek to remove trade barriers between business entities on the two sides of the Corentyne River.

Stabroek Business had earlier learnt from Berbice Chamber of Commerce President Mark Roopnarine that a business delegation from Guyana had visited Suriname in November and that the two sides were engaged in discourses that had to do with putting the finishing touches to planning for the forum.

Upper Corentyne Chamber  President Abraham Subnauth
Upper Corentyne Chamber
President Abraham Subnauth

Subnauth said the Paramaribo Chamber had already indicated that officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Customs Department in the Surinamese capital were expected to attend the two-day meeting. “We are currently engaging government with a view to having officials from our own Foreign Ministry, Customs and the Ministry of Commerce attend the forum,” he said.

Meanwhile, Subnauth said the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) is also expected to pay a keen interest in the forum which is expected to discuss, among other things, the payment of duties on goods imported from Suriname and smuggling. Subnauth said he was aware of tensions that have existed between Corentyne businessmen and the GRA over the payment of duties. The feeling among businessmen in the Corentyne was that they were being targeted both by Customs and by businessmen in the capital. He said he had even heard it said that businessmen in Georgetown were “paying Customs officials” to discriminate against those in the Corentyne. That being said, however, Subnauth told Stabroek Business that Chamber members had generally expressed satisfaction over the outcomes of a recent meeting between Corentyne businessmen and a senior Customs official at which several issues were discussed.

Issues regarding the matter of duties aside, Berbice businessmen face other challenges including the impact of the toll that they pay at the Berbice River Bridge on goods bound for Georgetown. “The toll is definitely affecting costs and impacting on business in the Corentyne. For example, Mahaicony farmers pay less for fertilizer than Corentyne farmers. That makes our farm produce more expensive.”

Subnauth further explained that while the movement of a tonne of rice from Georgetown to Port of Spain costs US$25, it costs US$6 to move a tonne of rice across the Berbice River Bridge. What this means is that millers offer less competitive prices for paddy and the farmers are uneasy about this. The cash crop farmers who market their produce in Georgetown are also concerned about not being able to compete with farmers from West Coast Berbice, East Coast and areas west of the Demerara River who market their goods in Georgetown. “What the Corentyne business community wants is a reduction of the level of the toll,” he said.

During his interview with Stabroek Business Subnauth restated remarks made at the Chamber’s Annual Dinner on Friday December 5, asserting that “everything in Berbice costs more than in Georgetown. Building materials, food, clothing, farm supplies… even beer. You name it and we pay more and the bridge toll is a factor that is contributing to that. It does not only have an impact on goods entering Berbice but also on goods and products leaving Berbice.”

Subnauth said the mandate of the Upper Corentyne Chamber was to reduce the cost of living. “A reduction in the cost of living means that we could have more people coming to this area to live and more people means more business.”

According to the Upper Corentyne Chamber President high electricity rates were creating further woes for Corentyne businessmen.

The Guyana/Suriname business summit, meanwhile, which, on the Guyana side, involves representation from the Berbice (New Amsterdam) Central Corentyne and Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce seeks to accelerate trade in consumer goods between the two countries and, according to Subnauth, to seek to secure goods at the most competitive prices.

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