Gov’t to lift maritime sector to international standards to reduce trade, transportation costs

Minister of Finance Winston Jordan said Guyana has been remiss in neglecting to make greater use of maritime transportation as the dominant conduit for the flow of goods and passengers within and beyond the country’s borders, even as he revealed the new administration’s plans for “comprehensive infrastructural connectivity and reform” to boost trade and capitalise on the country’s many waterways.

“This absence is brought into sharp focus when one considers a country like Japan, for example, which can hardly claim to boast the water resources of our country, yet, in that country, seaports function as a lifeline,” Jordan said on the issue of port development and its implications in his speech on Friday evening last at the Shipping Association of Guyana’s (SAG) annual awards ceremony and dinner. President David Granger numbered among the distinguished attendees at the function, held at the Pegasus Hotel.

The finance minister noted that Japan’s volume of international trade has grown steadily in recent years and the competition among seaports of neighbouring Asian countries has become intense in the international transportation market, according to a report from the Government Information Agency (GINA). In this light, Jordan observed that there isn’t any serious debate about the relevance of ports in the context of Guyana’s national development…. “Indeed, it is taken as a given, that the importance of these infrastructural facilities lies in their ability to provide a fast, safe and relatively cheap conduit for goods and people.” Some ports also serve as hubs for connection and transhipment, allowing cargo on different long-haul routes to be served more efficiently by several ships, he said.

The minister then spoke about the importance of trade to Guyana noting that since the beginning of the 1990s, inter-regional and intra-regional trade have gained extraordinary strength and importance here. “No doubt, underpinned by a conscious development strategy, imports and exports have significantly influenced the level of economic growth, employment, the balance of payments and the country’s international reserves,” he said.

Jordan further revealed that statistics have shown that in 2014 the export of goods and services accounted for 43% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while imports accounted for 66 %, both ratios attesting to the highly open nature of the economy, and its dependence on trade for growth and development. These ratios are expected to remain high in the medium to longer term, as investments in areas such as petroleum, bauxite, timber and gold begin to materialise. “A key area of economic policy discussion outlined in Guyana’s National Competitiveness Strategy Document is trade policy and export promotion with specific reference to the adequacy of ports to facilitate buoyant trade volumes,” he said.

Going forward, the minister said government has a vision of comprehensive infrastructural connectivity and reform that would include aligning the maritime sector with international standards and best practices. To this end, dredging to create deep water channels will be undertaken, in addition to the maintenance of Guyana’s ports, harbours and rivers to make maritime transportation safe, less costly and more reliable. Jordan also said the importance of trade is being heightened in the drive to grow the economy and in the development of the country; therefore, adequate infrastructure must be put in place to handle the higher volume of activities at Guyana’s ports. He cautioned that failing to do so will continue to constrain Guyana’s competitiveness of, and by extension it economic performance.

Meanwhile, Jordan congratulated the SAG executives for their vibrancy and dynamism in representing the wide-ranging interests of the organisation’s constituents. “I want to applaud the Shipping Association of Guyana and its affiliated organisations for their contribution in bringing Port Georgetown in line with International Standards. I implore you to develop a coordinated framework that will ensure that Guyana’s port system can effectively and efficiently respond to the challenges of future growth in the maritime transportation sector,” he said.

According to GINA, awards were presented  to Bernard Fernandes, Frankie Camacho, Clinton Williams and Desmond Sears all for giving 25 years or more service to the shipping industry. The Chairman’s Award for consistency in advocating for the development of the shipping industry was given to Ivor English and the SAG Trustees awards for contribution to the Maritime Industry in relation to the Shipping Act of 1998 was presented to Dr Barton Scotland and Stephen Fraser.

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