Guyana seeks to cash in on new U.S. arrangements

by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
August 18, 2000

GUYANA, like other Caribbean countries, is gearing to take advantage of new U.S. legislation through which more regionally manufactured goods may now get into the American market under the existing Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) but with NAFTA-type parity.

CBI is a trade arrangement which the Caribbean has had for a number of years now with the United States, which allows a limited number of regionally manufactured products into the U.S. market.

Addressing a Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) seminar at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown yesterday on `Environmental Management Systems', which topic will undoubtedly have bearing on this new trade regime, Trade Minister Mr Geoff DaSilva mentioned in passing that he was meeting later in the day with representatives of the U.S. government to discuss the issue.

Recalling the strong lobby put up earlier this year and last year by a number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen, calling on the U.S. Government to give the Caribbean NAFTA-type parity for a number of products, DaSilva said: "They won. The Senate and Congress have jointly passed legislation now that will give the Caribbean NAFTA parity for a number of products".

(NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement linking the U.S., Canada and Mexico.)

Discussions at a recent meeting at which there were representatives of Caribbean governments, he said, also centred on how regional companies are going to be able to access the U.S. market under these new conditions.

It was suggested, he said, that there should be a certain number of criteria, including Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Environmental Management.

"In essence", the minister said, "what we are discussing this afternoon is whether we could, in certain sectors of our economy, be able to develop a competitive advantage to get into the U.S. market under NAFTA parity conditions".

He cautioned, however, that one needs to bear in mind always that with this new dispensation comes the reality that some of Guyana's fiercest rivals will also be its closest friends in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and that they would stop at nothing to gain an edge over us.

This notwithstanding, he said, the bottom line is not about government, whether U.S. or else, but essentially a question of customer and market. In today's world, he noted, having comparative advantage in terms of certain natural resources is no longer adequate.

"The key issue for developing a country", he said, "is the competitive advantage and this includes many things, one of which is environmental management". Cost and looking at what one's competitors are doing are also other key factors that need be taken into consideration.

Part of the competition now in terms of getting competitive advantage, he said, is which companies and which countries are going to be ahead of everybody else in issues like Environmental Management and IPR.

He made the point also that being competitive today means not only looking at labour costs or trying to get cheaper inputs. "If part of your input has to be exported or taken from another local source and it does not meet certain environmental standards", he warned, "that could become a problem for your final product".

He used the ban the U.S. government slapped on local shrimp from entering her market close to two years ago because Guyana was negligent in enforcing the use of the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) as a typical example of what could happen if standards are not met.

"...exports were just shut down completely", he said.

Noting the trend among some to feel that there must be some way to get around everything, the minister said: "It ain't possible. These things are being monitored in many different ways..."

According to GNBS head, Dr Chatterpaul Ramcharran, the workshop had to do with Environmental Management Systems (EMS) - involving elements of the ISO 14000 series of standards - and how they related to trade and trade agreements like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and our own Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

It was also integral to a project funded by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to implement the EMS standards here.

The objective of the session, he said, was is to sensitise the Chief Executive Officers and other top management of the various local companies, in both the production and service sectors, to the importance of EMS standards to (a) their operations and environmental performance, (b) in relation to the Environmental legislation that they have to comply with, (c) in relation to trade and trading and the numerous benefits to be derived once it is implemented and (d) why local companies should take the bold step to understand, implement and maintain it in their operations.

UNDP officer, Ms Denise De Souza, noted that though the topic at first glance may not seem relevant to the real business of the agency, which is more in the line of poverty alleviation and creating sustainable livelihoods, the environment, like gender, is also a cross-cutting issue.

The sound management of environmental resources, she said, can often be linked to efforts to relieve poverty and secure sustainable livelihoods as well as creating income-generating activities.

Particularly in Guyana, where so much of the income is derived from primary products be it agriculture, forestry or mining, she said, environmental management and other activities are important in order to minimise and prevent any negative impact of our activities on the environment.

Developments in world markets and trading systems such as globalisation and the formation of various trade blocs are forcing both private and public sector producers to compete on a playing field that is evolving and changing every day.

She said that while larger markets may signify increased income and earning possibilities for some enterprises, it can also mean the closure of many others.

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today