Caribbean countries fish for investors at China trade fair
-Guyana misses first day By Anand Persaud in Xiamen, China
Stabroek News
September 9, 2003

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China yesterday launched its 7th international fair for investment and trade, and six Caribbean countries - Guyana not included - got off to a flying start promoting their goods and services in the booming southern city of Xiamen.

Xiamen was one of the first four special economic zones created by China and is the site of this year’s China International Fair for Investment and Trade (CIFIT) in which Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barba-dos, Suriname, Antigua, St Lucia and the Bahamas are participating. Of these, only Guyana and St Lucia did not have booths up yesterday morning. Head of Guyana’s two-man mission to the fair, John Isaacs, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Interna-tional Co-operation, told Stabroek News that Guyana would be exhibiting its items today when the scheduled Caribbean Day gets underway at CIFIT. He said that the samples were ready and would be taken to the site today.

Guyana, according to Isaacs, would be exhibiting rums, packaged sugar and timber samples among others. He added that the country would also seek to showcase the planned Guyana-Brazil highway as a launching pad for Chinese companies seeking access to South American markets.

At Suriname’s booth, Paramaribo is trying to interest Chinese businessmen in a variety of areas including investment in oil exploration and production. Acting Mana-ger of the state-owned oil company Staatsolie, Soerin B Nandlal told Stabroek News that the lynchpin of the Surinamese effort in this direction was a planned auction of offshore oil blocks with a bidding round starting in November and concluding in May 2004.

This development is likely to be of interest to Guyana because a significant portion of its offshore oil potential in its eastern zone has been frozen because of the ongoing dispute with Suriname over the oil exploration licence awarded to Canada’s CGX. This began in June 2000 with the Suriname navy expelling an oil rig from Guyana’s waters.

According to Nandlal, Suriname’s onshore oil production is 12,000 barrels per day with proven reserves onshore of 174 million barrels. He said emphasis was now being placed on offshore oil exploration and the blocks that he described ran along the entire Surinamese coast. The Paramaribo move comes amid a similar award of offshore exploration blocks by Venezuela.

Besides oil, Suriname’s delegation of eight is also trying to generate interest in quarrying and timber production. Its delegation is headed by its Minister of Commerce, Jong Tjien Fa.

Over at the Trinidad booth, Port of Spain is trying to entice investors to its downstream non-energy sectors such as metals and petrochemicals. Executive Officer in the Office of the President Leon Lue Yat told Stabroek News that given the cheap energy that drives the economy, Trinidad was trying to lure investment to take advantage of this. Food and technology were other areas that were being advertised and Lue Yat also said that Trinidad was going to market itself as the strategic gateway for China to markets in the US and other places.

The traditional sand and sun tourist features of Trinidad are also on show but there was one hitch. Investment brochures setting out incentives and policies had not arrived at the fair yesterday and were unlikely to get here by the time it ends on Thursday. The brochures were mistakenly dispatched to the Chinese capital Beijing, two hours and 20 minutes by plane to the north.

Jamaica was aggressively courting investors by producing bilingual brochures. Jamaica Promotions Corpo-ration Executive Director for Markets, Michael McMorris told Stabroek News at the gleaming exhibition site that the decision to have brochures in Chinese was because it was considered a first mark of respect to speak to them (Chinese businessmen) in their language. Among investment openings Jamaica is promoting are its souvenir and craft industry, information technology, particularly informatics.

Already some companies which have had an ongoing relationship with Kingston have showed up for more detailed discussions with the delegation members on call centres and software development.

One of the projects Jamaica is dangling in front of investors is a commercial free zone/distribution hub for the Americas to complement the existing trans-shipment facilities in its capital city and the duty-free shopping mall in Montego Bay. Jamaica’s promotions team includes the head of the Hong Kong-Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Tony Hugh.

Barbados has two areas of focus at its booth. Emeline Taitt, Manager of North America for the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation told Stabroek News that the first was trade. The Barbados booth had samples of rum, chutney and seasonings on show. These, she said, could be also bought via the internet.

The second focus for the delegation of six was investment promotion. Taitt told Stabroek News that Bridgetown was trying to corner Chinese investment in information technology, manufacturing and financial services among other areas. She touted the double taxation exemption treaty between Beijing and Bridgetown as one of the factors that would be attractive to Chinese businessmen. Also on the Barbados team are representatives of two businesses who are keen on sourcing raw materials from China for chemicals processing and learning more about silk screening. The Barbadian team is headed by Minister of International Business, Dale Marshall.

Antigua, according to its Industrial Development Board General Manager Gaye Hechme is trying to woo investors to its offshore financial services sector. Hechme told this newspaper that offshore gaming was one of the areas being promoted. Antigua has taken the United States before the World Trade Organisation over Washington’s blocking of internet gaming sites based in St John’s. In addition, Antigua also has its postcard-perfect tourism facilities on show and is trying to garner investment in manufacturing. A Chinese business delegation is scheduled to visit Antigua later this year.

The Bahamas booth was being manned by a representative of a seafood company, Paradise Fisheries. The Chief Financial Officer of the company, Wendell Raeburn told Stabroek News that a project with a Chinese company is in the works for a lobster farm. The company was the number two exporter of spine-tailed lobster in 2002 and is looking to penetrate the Chinese market. It operates between 200-300 fishing boats and processes 22 million pounds of lobster.

Each of the booths yesterday reported numerous visits and exchange of information. Today is expected to be the key period as the Caribbean is being showcased. This will take the form of a registration of the Chinese firms interested in doing business in the Caribbean and seminars on the investment environment in the various countries.

Around 40 countries are participating in the fair and approximately 500,000 people are expected to attend the exhibition which was declared open by Chinese Vice-Premier and Health Minister Madame Wu Yi, amid a sea of orange and yellow balloons in a huge hall decorated with red and yellow, the colours of the Chinese flag.

The eight Caricom countries were invited to the exhibition during Madame Wu Yi’s visit to the Caribbean earlier this year. It also came just months after President Bharrat Jagdeo paid a state visit to China.

About Xiamen

Xiamen, on the south eastern coast of China, just to the west of the Taiwan Strait, covers a total area of 1,565 square kilometres and has a population of 2.14 million. It has been a hot destination for foreign investment. By the end of 2002, 5714 foreign investment projects had been approved to a total value of US$20.1B and construction projects are everywhere.

Xiamen, which has a mild climate and is hot at the moment is one of the few municipalities enjoying independent status in economic planning. It is ranked fifth on the list of most competitive cities in China published by the Economic Daily.

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