Integrating with South America Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
April 23, 2004

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STAKEHOLDERS from several agencies in South America Wednesday concluded two days of talks on the ambitious Initiative for the Integration of South American Infrastructure (IIRSA), a vision of leaders in the region to further deepen levels of cooperation across the board.

Ms. Bianca Alarcon, one of the representatives from the IIRSA who spoke at the meeting at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown Tuesday, said the IIRSA aims to create an infrastructure platform that would encompass transport, energy and telecommunication, to promote logistic and trade integration in South America and reinforce regional competitiveness positioning in the global economy. The IIRSA's action plan includes 10 integration and development hubs.

Though linguistically isolated, and small - 215,000 sq. km, 700,000 population, US$2.7B GDP - in a region that boasts a population of 350 million, and a GDP of US$1,153B, Guyana holds a unique position in the scheme of things in that it is geographically positioned in South America and is historically linked to the English-speaking Caribbean which is moving, albeit slowly, towards a single market and economy. It is poised to benefit tremendously from a closer alliance with Latin America.

A vision of Guyana becoming a trade gateway from the Caribbean to South America and vice versa, and spin-off benefits from trading activities, among other considerations, have spurred the administration to aggressively pursue infrastructure linkages with its immediate neighbours, Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil which are among countries in the Guiana Shield hub of the IIRSA. The fifth country in that hub is French Guiana. Hemispheric-wide integration was underscored during the recent state visit here by President Hugo Chavez who noted the two countries' "commonality of purpose on the issue of integration" and stressed the need to put social issues on the front-burner. There are initial plans for a road between Venezuela and Guyana; a road to Brazil is near completion, and Guyana and Suriname are linked by the Canawaima Ferry Service. According to IIRSA, in the short term (by 2010) infrastructural trade links with Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana could yield between US$4B and US$10B.

The bulk of integrative-type activities now appears to be focused on the giant next door, Brazil, vis-a-vis the road through Guyana's hinterland and the development of the areas along the route. Local agencies are currently brainstorming ideas for the development of Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) with blueprints of homesteads, an industrial site, and petrol stations, a deep water port and a hydro-electric dam already drawn up. Institutional and legal agreements, among them an International Road Transportation of Cargo and Passenger accord, are also being considered.

Though fears of being overrun with goods from the larger South American states, and of succumbing to crime that seeps across porous borders have been raised in some quarters, officials on both sides of the divide are adamant that integration of the South American region must proceed. "Aren't we overrun with goods from North America and Europe now," was President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Edward Boyer's response to the former. To the latter issue, Brazilian Ambassador to Guyana, Mr. Ney do Prado Dieguez responded: "What you have to do is try to lessen the negative aspects `cause you can't erase them and you cannot stop them. But you can lessen them. I think that cooperation would have to extend as far as illicit activities are concerned also. There's no such thing as shying away from integration because these problems will occur."

Such expressed goodwill and continued meaningful cooperation with our South American sister states can only redound to Guyana's benefit and yield the kind of investment opportunities that would boost this country's economic fortunes.