Guyana should seek US government assistance for investment promotion activities in America
Stabroek News
March 22, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Recently, United States President George Bush announced his Administration's intention to pursue a free trade agreement with Central American countries ahead of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) scheduled for implementation by 2005.

This is an important development for the Caribbean since most of the smaller economies of the hemisphere are those of Central America and the Caribbean and the smaller economies need to be unified in their negotiations if they are to advance their cause and protect their special circumstances. I don't know if the Caribbean is ready for an FTA with the US at this time but I think it is in the interest of both the US and the Caribbean that the negotiation process with smaller economies not be divided.

Hemispheric free trade is a reality that will not disappear. The FTAA will come into being in 2005. The countries of the Caribbean need to appreciate that an FTAA will present challenges as well as opportunities. What is also important is that the Caribbean and Latin America recognise that the United States depends on the stability and prosperity of the countries in this region for its own economic progress.

Last week I met with several leading Members of the US Congress and White House officials in Washington, DC in my capacity as Co Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee's Business Advisory Council. I used the opportunity to stress the importance of trade and investment with the Caribbean and Latin America, using just the state of Florida as an example.

In 2000 Florida's total trade reached about $73.7 billion dollars. Of that, 50.3 billion dollars represented trade with Latin America and the Caribbean. A recent poll has shown that almost 40 per cent of Floridians view trade with Latin America and the Caribbean as very important to the future of Florida's economy and that almost another 40 per cent see it as somewhat important to the future of Florida's economy. This was a statewide poll. If narrowed to South Florida, the impact of trade with this region of the world is even more significant.

Today, Florida is the dominant US trading partner with Latin America and the Caribbean. Florida's economic growth and prosperity are increasingly tied to business with Latin America and the Caribbean. Florida's ports depend heavily on this trade, the tourism industry benefits from travel by Latin Americans and West Indians who often combine business trips with family vacations and the health industry derives revenue from thousands who seek advanced medical treatment.

Having provided what I hope is indisputable testimony to the vital importance of the Florida/Latin America and Caribbean connection there are a few brief points I wish to raise. The main point is that Florida's future growth and prosperity are linked to Latin America and the Caribbean. It is therefore important that the United States helps to ensure the political and economic stability of the countries in this region so that these markets are not just maintained, but indeed expanded. This requires policies on the part of the Administration which seek to ensure the maintenance and strengthening of democracy, the promotion of good governance, the provision of assistance in areas such as human resource development, security and information technology and the encouragement of American private sector investment in these economies especially in telecommunications, information technology, agri business and tourism. On a recent visit to Guyana I visited the Essequibo region where I witnessed the spoilage of a variety of food crops which at the end of market day at Parika was not sold. Guyana needs investment in an appropriate food processing facility and this should be pursued as a priority. In fact I did raise this issue with a few business persons and expect them to look at the possibility of investing.

The successful completion of the negotiations of a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) will be a significant boost for Florida business. But there is concern in many Latin American and Caribbean countries, particularly the smaller economies about the impact of the FTAA. There is no doubt that the FTAA will provide unprecedented opportunities for these countries but the publics there are still to understand how these opportunities will come about. One recommendation I put forward during the recent meeting in Washington, is that the Bush Administration considers support for a public education program on the FTAA in the smaller economies, especially the Caribbean.

Central America and the Caribbean have sought to work closely together in the context of their similarities as smaller economies. I recommended during my Washington meeting that it would be good US strategy to invite the Caribbean to be part of the effort with Central America. At least this will erase any suspicions about America wanting to divide the smaller economies. The Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago may well welcome the opportunity. I should point out here that the Dominican Republic was Florida's second largest trading partner in 2000 (Brazil was number one) with $5 billion in combined trade, Jamaica 13th, Bahamas 14th and Trinidad and Tobago 15th with almost one billion dollars each in combined trade with Florida ahead of Panama and Nicaragua. Guyana's combined trade with Florida in 2000 was $132 million, up from $115 million in 1999.

There are always concerns in the US about investment offshore and the loss of jobs in America. But a careful study of this issue as it relates to the Caribbean and Latin America will prove that the jobs generated in the US through trade with Latin America and the Caribbean far outnumber jobs which are likely to be lost through US investments in this region. In fact investment in sectors such as telecommunications, information technology, tourism and even food processing are hardly likely to result in any job losses in the US. These are the arguments the Caribbean must put forward as it seeks expanded US investment.

Republican Administrations have been more disposed to promoting US investment abroad and using arguments such as those I have identified, countries like Guyana should seek US government assistance for investment promotion activities in America. We need investments badly!

Yours faithfully,

Wesley Kirton