With opportunities now opening up due to Guyana’s advantageous position in the emerging oil and gas sector, it should begin pressing Trinidad and Tobago to remove its artificial barriers to trade, says commentator Ralph Ramkarran.
In his column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, he traced relations between the two CARICOM countries over the last five decades and referred to the current debate over the prospect of Trinidad’s participation in Guyana’s emerging oil and gas economy. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) covering oil and gas was signed between the two countries in Georgetown last week when Trinidad’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley visited. The terms of the MoU have come under close scrutiny.
“The Government of Guyana did not appear to have taken the opportunity to raise with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago its administrative obstructions that have been placed on the entry of Guyana’s exports. If that assessment is correct, Guyana lost a golden opportunity to open up Trinidad and Tobago’s economy to Guyana’s goods”, Ramkarran said
He said that the obstructions are well known and adverted to a recent letter in Stabroek News by Clement Rohee, who was Minister of Foreign Trade for several years in the former PPP/C Government.
In the letter which appeared in the September 11th edition of Stabroek News under the title `Trinidad gave Guyana a hard time in CARICOM single market’, Rohee said: “I recall when as Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation I was tasked with three responsibilities; first was persuade Trinidad to give Guyana greater market access for its rice by removing a number of non- tariff barriers which it had unilaterally imposed without the consent of CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).
“I led several official/private sector missions to Port of Spain. The Trinidadians never budged. They found fault with the colour, length and smell of the Guyanese rice grain and claimed that they had to impose the non-tariff barriers for the sake of consumer protection.
“The second issue had to do with our sugar. This time ‘round my mission was to encourage the Trinidad authorities to import certain amounts of Guyana’s Brown (raw) sugar to be refined into ‘white sugar’ since Trinidad was the only sugar producing country with a refinery in the Community.
“We made out a case based on studies that it would be to the mutual advantage of both countries were the two countries to engage in a joint venture envisaging the production and refining of sugar.
“We further suggested that Trinidad could set up a sugar refinery in Guyana which had a competitive advantage with respect to cost of production especially labour cost, yield per acre etc; when all the factors are taken into consideration in respect to sugar production in CARICOM.
“The Trinidadians never agreed. They argued that for them to export their refinery to Guyana would mean the loss of jobs for hundreds of Trinidadians in the refinery industry.
“The third mission had to do with beef exports to CARICOM countries especially Trinidad and Tobago. Beef production had quadrupled under the PPP/C administration. Cattle farmers were prospering. Cattle farmers wanted to export their good quality beef to member states of the community. To them the free trade rules gave them a competitive advantage.
“With an economic brief and feasibility study in my possession I took the matter to COTED. There was complete surprise by my colleague ministers over the extent to which beef production had risen in Guyana and what Guyana was applying for.
“A host of technical arguments were raised by member states particularly T&T. I felt we were badly treated, so as a compromise, rather than getting nowhere, the Guyana delegation agreed that the CARICOM Secretariat, together with the regional body responsible for testing the cattle industry and beef production facilities in member states would conduct a scientific investigation on beef production in Guyana.
“The investigation was successfully conducted and confirmed that Guyana’s beef could be exported to CARICOM member states. No sooner had the investigation been circulated to member states, up went a number of trade barriers to Guyana’s beef exports. Guyanese potential exporters of beef like their counterparts in the rice and sugar industries were frustrated.
“So much for free trade within CARICOM and small wonder why the Single Market and Economy is floundering”.
Ramkarran said that the placing of artificial barriers by Port of Spain to Guyana’s goods appears to be the basis of the criticisms of the MoU.
He noted however that the Guyana Government appears to have raised the issue of Trinidad’s recent reluctance to maintain its full support for Georgetown in its controversy with Venezuela over the border issue, which was a significant departure from Port of Spain’s hitherto full support for Guyana’s case. Ramkarran said that Prime Minister Rowley’s change of posture and full endorsement of Guyana’s position is now welcome. Demarcation of maritime boundaries to eliminate overlaps appears to have to await further discussion, he said.
Ramkarran added that the MOU is an opportunity between the two governments to enhance co-operation.
“Trinidad and Tobago has the capacity and expertise to assist Guyana, which is in dire need of such assistance. Trinidad and Tobago business people should be encouraged to invest in Guyana, subject to any local content laws which may be implemented, much as Trinidad and Tobago did, enabling its business people to flourish during the oil years and much of its wealth to remain in Trinidad and Tobago. With opportunities now opening up due to Guyana’s advantageous position, it should begin pressing Trinidad and Tobago to remove its artificial barriers to trade”, he asserted.