If President Donald Trump’s move to slow the pace of the thaw in relations between Washing-ton and Havana initiated by his predecessor was intended in any to dim the enthusiasm of Caricom countries keen to strengthen their own ties with Cuba in what these days is a discernably liberalized economic environment, that ploy has simply not worked.
In the last few months, delegations from several member countries in the community including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana have been dispatched to Cuba. These delegations have been led by ministers responsible, variously, for economy, trade and business, to engage Cuban state officials (the Cuban Communist Party remains firmly at the political helm) on the broadening of economic and trade relations. In some instances agreements have actually been struck and various levels of bilateral activity are already ensuing.
A case need hardly be made for the strengthening of relations between Caricom as a whole and individual member countries, on the one hand and Cuba on the other. Much of what has evolved in those relationships that now span a period of more than four decades has revolved around technical cooperation, mostly in the field of health services. Guyanese of at least two generations are aware of the invaluable contribution that Cuba continues to make to the development of the medical services in Guyana through the provision of scholarships for local students.
This week the Stabroek Business has published a story on what appears to be the opening of a new chapter in Guyana/Cuba relations. It appears that quietly, over a period of several months, private sector delegations from Guyana have been finding their way to Cuba to engage officials in Havana in discourses that are likely to lead to firm bilateral trade and service-provision agreements.
Efforts to secure details on the outcomes of the discourses have not met with overwhelming success even though we have gleaned enough to be able to disclose that the local rice milling entity Nand Persaud and Company appears to have reached agreement with the competent authorities in Cuba for the sale of rice to that country. It appears too that Nand Persaud’s discourses with the authorities in Havana also embrace the possible setting up of a milling facility there that is likely to open up possible market access for Guyana’s rice to other markets in Central America.
The coincidence between the rice engagement between Nand Persaud and Company and Cuba, on the one hand and the recent collapse of the significant PetroCaribe market in Venezuela is unlikely to be lost to local rice farmers. One might add that our report last week that the Berbice-based company was paying an interest in acquiring supplies of rice from Essequibo farmers is put into perspective by the disclosure this week that it has found a market in Cuba.
Details of the various other bilateral discourses and their outcomes are sketchy up until now though Stabroek Business understands that private sector interests apart, government-to-government discourses are likely to see the signing of a much broader agreement on economics and trade whilst there are also indications of an imminent air transport agreement that could see regular and routine flights between Georgetown and Havana.
Economic liberalization in Cuba opens up what, in the context of the region, is a significant market for Caricom countries. In the instance of Guyana, Cuba’s 11-plus million people are a potential market that could kick start the country’s historically sluggish agro-processing and manufacturing sectors. Again, there is a coincidence between the opportunity that has opened up in Cuba and the growth of non-tariff barriers (some of them have to do with production standards) facing goods from Guyana targeting North American markets.
Once a fuller Cuba/Guyana bilateral agreement on trade and economics materializes it will, hopefully, provide a fresh incentive for local businesses to aggressively target the Cuban market. It is not an opportunity that we can afford to miss.