Guyana to push for results at COTED meeting

Stabroek News
February 6, 2000

The upcoming meeting of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) is likely to see a Guyana delegation intent on ensuring that the discussions are results oriented.

The new approach is part of the more aggressive promotion of Guyana's interest among its CARICOM partners arising from its view that their collective progress would be best served by exploiting the complementarity of their economies.

The first step in that direction was taken last week with the signing of an agreement setting up the Guyana/Trinidad and Tobago high-level bilateral commission to stimulate increased trade and investment between the two countries.

During that encounter, the opportunity was taken to discuss some of the irritants which apparently hinder the development of trade, particularly in rice and sugar from the Guyana side and the environment tax and the security of export payments on the Trinidad side. These are issues to be raised at the COTED meeting.

In conversations with Trade Ministry officials, including Trade Minister, Geoffrey DaSilva, Stabroek News has gathered that in preparation for the meeting trade officials have been having extensive discussions with Guyanese manufacturers and exporters about the problems they have been encountering. These discussions, DaSilva said, include looking at proposals which could help with resolving some of the issues.

One issue on which Guyana is prepared to stand its ground is the application of the Caribbean standard for rice. The standard is due to be reviewed again at next week's COTED meeting but DaSilva is firm that the standard should not be varied to take account of colour preference. Colour, he said, was a matter of choice to be determined at the market level. The suggested variation would see gradations of colour from light through medium to dark. Trinidad has stated that the colour of Guyana's rice is the reason for it not being imported. However, as a result of various high-level discussions on the issue, there has been a slight improvement in market access.

Since then Stabroek News understands that there are arrangements in place to facilitate the testing of rice for the approved colour and that this is to be incorporated into the Caribbean Standard which should become effective as of April 1. 2000.

To be raised at the COTED meeting too is the question of the $10 environmental tax on plastic containers. The last COTED meeting heard complaints about the tax being discriminatory but DaSilva contends that the impost discriminates in favour of the environment as it is refunded if the imported plastic containers are re-exported. The tax contributes to the cost of the disposal of the containers. At the COTED meeting Guyana is likely to table proposals to address the twin objectives of its environmental concerns and that of not creating non-tariff barriers to imports.

Another issue facing Guyanese products is the reported dumping of plywood manufactured in Brazil on the Jamaican market. At this meeting Jamaica and Guyana are to report on the results of their investigation.

Stabroek News understands that the Brazilian manufactured plywood is being sold on the Jamaican market below the price it is sold for in Brazil. A consequence of this was that between March and September last year, one Guyanese exporter had to drop its prices by 22% to be able to compete.

Industry representatives have asked the government to raise with the Jamaican government the possibility of hiking the Common External Tariff above the present ten per cent level to address this problem.

A related issue that could arise is the proposal by the Forestry Commission to more efficiently manage the country's stock of crabwood and locust logs, the species of choice for furniture manufacturers. One of the means likely to be adopted is restricting the export of these logs. This newspaper understands that foreign buyers had purchased huge quantities of crabwood and locust, which resulted in a shortage on the local market.

The local furniture manufacturers are behind the move but the loggers and sawmillers believe that adequate mechanisms have to be put in place to ensure that there was no conspiracy to control the prices offered locally.

Another issue on which DaSilva was checking with local manufacturers was the duty imposed on creme liqueurs by some Caribbean countries, which is reported to be at the same level as that imposed on rum. Then too there is the issue relating to the labelling of brewery products which some CARICOM states have reported as being difficult to comply with.

There is also the issue of sugar which was being sourced from Guatemala by Suriname. Reports indicate that since the last COTED meeting, Suriname had increased her imports of sugar from Guyana. But there is still a budding issue with Trinidad about the imports of sugar for refining. It has complained that Guyana's sugar, which is refined to international standards accepted by the US and the United Kingdom, does not meet the standard required for its purposes. The issue had been raised with the Trinidad delegation headed by its Foreign Minister, Ralph Maraj.

Another issue to be raised which would be of concern to Guyana in relation to the implementation of Protocol II is the right of movement of persons other than university graduates. Guyana is concerned as it has to deal with a request from Caribbean Home Insurance to employ a non-Guyanese computer operator. The issue is related to the movement of the person with all of his/her social security benefits.

Another too is the security of export payments. Some countries have in place regulations which require a company to be registered in the country in which it intended to pursue a claim through the courts to secure export payment. There appears to be some confusion between the Bank of Guyana and the Ministry of Trade as to what the requirements are for Guyana. Stabroek News understands that the two agencies are in the process of determining what the regulations are.