The search for our destiny
To the north are
the islands of the Caribbean, many of which are fellow members of the close
but small regional trade group Caricom. With them Guyana shares a common
colonial legacy, a common language and a passion for cricket. The total land
mass of these countries can fit several times over in Guyana while the
people number just about five million.
And to the south
there is Brazil, a giant of a country with a population approaching 200
million people occupying five million square miles of territory. They speak
Portuguese, have a passion for football, carnival and music. Indeed the
energetic and affable Brazilian Ambassador to Guyana, Mr Ney Do Prado
Dieguez, recently commented that Brazil and Guyana have signed more
agreements in the last two years than in the past thirty years! Such a
statistic is purely academic to the thousands of Guyanese nationals from the
hinterland region who are probably as comfortable in Brazil as they are in
Where do we look?
initiative to increase contacts is as much at the governmental as it is at
the level of the predominantly Amerindian communities and the private
sector. It is particularly heartening to see our chambers of commerce,
tourism association and several individuals commit to the Brazil cause. It
seems therefore that such contacts and the building of stronger
relationships will become greater and assume more economic significance.
Yet the moves are
still not as steady as they should be. Guyana seems caught somewhere between
- as some would like to say to the north, 'history,' and those to the south,
our 'continental destiny.' Among the second group are those who have had
contact, including many of those who have already acquired real estate in
Brazil at prices which makes Georgetown sound like downtown Manhattan! On
the other hand, there are the more insular Guyanese who think that already
there are too many Brazilians here - some legally and others illegally -
taking away our minerals and our logs, corrupting our officials(!) and
bringing drugs into the country. Some among us worry about the impact of
Brazilian crime, including the callous disregard for the environment and
that country's indigenous people. The more paranoid are even concerned about
tilting the composition of the Guyanese population, forgetting that we are
all in fact the product of colonization and migration. They fear that
strengthening our ties with Brazil suggests a moving away from Caricom.
Ties can bind
Apart from the
difference in land mass and population, there does seem to be an awful lot
of similarities between our countries. Look at their GDP and you see
forestry, fishery, tourism, mining, agriculture, manufacturing and services.
Does that not sound like Guyana? Their urban/rural population distribution
is similar and their male-dominated culture would be easily recognised.
There is in that country a sharp social divide - much sharper than here, and
they are as famous for their street children and urban police excesses as
they are for the Rio Carnival.
appears to have taken root in a country where coups were not unknown up to a
couple of decades ago. Their current leader, President Lula, is enormously
popular and has taken a firm place on the world stage, much to the
discomfort of some in the US administration. Because of its size perhaps,
but also because of its growing reputation as a major player in Latin and
South America, the developing countries and even among the powerhouses of
Europe and North America, Brazil has no qualms about reaching out and
supporting the developing countries, even if it offends the world's
Jagdeo is confident after meeting with President Lula that Caricom's
lobbying efforts for special and differential treatment within the proposed
Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) would receive that country's support.
And it is clear that Brazil counts in all the fora of the world, as we saw
in Cancun recently and with its strongly held view that the road to FTAA
would not be dictated by the USA. Even more boldly, Brazil is also moving to
restore the strength of the developing world as President Lula's recent
visit to India demonstrated.
Riding on the crest
of his image and popularity President Lula has also expressed an interest in
Africa, and in facilitating an agreement between Caricom and MERCOSUR. For
his part President Jagdeo is reported to have promised Guyana's support for
this process. Where that would leave the FTAA, which is clearly not as
urgent as some would like, is anyone's guess, but there must be now strong
evidence that Guyana needs to use the momentum to increase trade ties with
Our private sector
complains about the small internal market, but in a recent address in Guyana
the Brazilian ambassador was categorical in inviting the Guyanese business
person "to aggressively cross the border and conquer the Brazilian market, a
market that comprises 170 million consumers."
While energy cost
is a major deterrent to businesses in Guyana, most of Brazil's energy which
comes mainly from renewable sources, particularly hydroelectricity, is dirt
cheap by Guyana standards. There are no apparent efforts at this stage for
Guyana to tap into their system, but there are no reasons why we should not
seek to go there in some kind of joint venture arrangements.
Not that the
openness is one-sided, or that it is pure altruism on our neighbour's part,
but there is everything right, and indeed by definition that is what trading
is about. Brazilian entrepreneurs are of course very interested in some of
this country's larger contracts, and their need for access to the Atlantic
is quite great. There are as well dangers about opening the road from Brazil
to the boys from Brazil, but that is what management and laws are about.
There is also the issue of the action brought by sugar countries including
Brazil, which could adversely affect Guyana's preferential access to the
European market. That is a matter which warrants action at the Presidential
level of the two countries.
economy with international trade exceeding $100B dwarfs that of Guyana and
there is already tangible interest in our rice. Is that not a good place to
start? And while trade increases, is there not a possibility that one of our
commercial banks could team up with one from Brazil and introduce banking to
the interior? And can someone in our private sector not think of the
possibilities offered by a school offering English for Portuguese students?
And as the private sector does this, could the governments of the two
countries not take the leap and negotiate a double taxation treaty to
facilitate trade by removing the double taxation of the same income?
considers that the time is as good as it has ever been for the widening and
deepening of trade and other commercial relations between our two countries.
Caricom will always be important to us and has been beneficial to Guyana.
That will not go away. Perhaps the way to view our role and relationship
with Brazil is not only to expand our own trade opportunities but also to
act as the bridge between Caricom and Brazil and the rest of South America.
Will anyone quarrel with that?
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