Lethem in-step with improvements made in Guyana/Brazil link
-Packaging and labeling facility on the cards

By Gordon French
Kaieteur News
April 16, 2007

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With commerce and trade being the major economic activity, Lethem businesses are responding positively to the progress being made between Guyana and Brazil , and several projects have been proposed, including the establishment of a packaging and labeling facility.

According to the President of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), Daniel Gajie, the Region Nine (Upper Takatu/Upper Essequibo) community is already seeing a rise in the economic activity due mainly to Brazilians crossing the border.

He noted that the Brazilians are coming to purchase Lethem goods that are brought from Georgetown .

“That has added a lot of confidence to local business people and we are seeing a number of new buildings; we are seeing people enhancing their business environment within their premises as well as on the outside,” Gajie stated.

He added that sale has been great for electronic items, clothes, boots and some household appliances, since these are far cheaper than in Brazil, largely due to the strength of the American dollar as against the real (Brazil's) currency.

He added that Lethem, which has been earmarked for secondary township status, has seen improvements in the banking industry and telecommunication industry, quickly pointing out that the RCCI is embarking on a project to construct a packaging and labeling facility which will enhance the local products.

He said that when the facility is completed it will enhance peanuts and cassareep packaging.

Seasonal items, such as fruits and vegetables, are also inline to benefit from the facility.

Gajie disclosed that Lethem had an inquiry from Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) for oranges, passion fruits and mangoes.

“We are going to be working hard to get production up, and try and export the juice in bulk,” Gajie lamented.

He added that the construction of a multi-purpose centre is also well on the way and the completion of two hotels this year - one an apartment complex - will provide a firm accommodation base.

Gajie noted that although the bridge is not completed, there is a pontoon service which operates 12 hours a day and anytime there is a holiday in Brazil there is a build up of over 200 vehicles on the Brazil side of the border.

“Some days it looks as though you are in Brazil , the number of Brazilians we have in Lethem,” Gajie noted.

With the recent announcement by Brazil that Bom Fin was now a port of entry, Gajie encouraged Georgetown-based companies to build warehouses in Lethem in anticipation of the increased demand for local products, including sugar and rice.

“We don't expect this route to come on stream until another six months and we have high expectations that Guyana 's goods will penetrate the Brazilian market in a very big way,” Gajie said.

He said that RCCI is behind the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce to get the industrial zone and commercial zones completed.

Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Manniram Prashad, speaking to journalists on the Guyana/Brazil border last Friday, said that Digicel has been awarded the first plot of land on the industrial site, but there are there are some six applications pending.

He expressed satisfaction with the progress of the bridge that will link the two countries, noting that the Brazilians, who are constructing the bridge, are working from their end into Guyana .

He said that to facilitate trade, Brazilians have proposed to undertake the paving of the road between Lethem and Georgetown .

According to Minister Prashad, Brazil is seeking a trade route that will see their products being transported through Guyana .

And to facilitate this, he said that the government will explore the establishment of a deep water port.

Security link

While the link with Brazil is expected to fuel trade in legitimate products, officials are also anticipating that it will provide criminals with a few more options to traffic cocaine, guns and other items across the border.

Chairman of Region Nine's Regional Democratic Council (RDC), Clarindo Lucas emphasised the need for an extradition treaty between the two countries.

While lamenting that security agencies on both sides of the border collaborate on a number of fronts, he pointed to the difficulty experienced in moving an accused from Brazil to Guyana .

“On Guyana 's soil we will give good cooperation and if it is a citizen from Brazil we will hand them over. We are not getting that kind of cooperation from Brazil at the moment…The door is now open for better cooperation…It is not perfect but it is improving,” Lucas stated.

Minister Prashad noted that an extradition treaty will seriously have to be considered.

In 2003, President Bharrat Jagdeo and President Lula da Silva had agreed to explore plans to enter into an extradition agreement.

Gajie said that at the moment there are very minor security problems but the Chamber is working very closely with the Guyana Police Force to form policing groups across the region.

He said that the RCCI is also seeking to form a station management committee which will look into the problems the police are having.

“At the moment, we have been seen an increase in minor criminal activity. We have been providing information to the police on a need to know basis,” Gajie stated.

He said that the major concern is that the Georgetown vehicles that come to Lethem have not been adhering to the rules, and often bypass the police check points where they are expected to declare the persons and items on board.

“Criminal activity is coming mainly from the Georgetown individuals that are visiting our area. The influence that they are bringing to the Rupununi region is not good at the moment. We are trying very hard to nip that in the bud. We are also working very closely with the Customs and Trade Administration to control the products that are coming across the border,” Gajie noted.

Some 23,000 people live in Region Nine and of that number, some 5,600 reside in Lethem.

There are two housing areas with over 600 house lots, but Gajie cautioned against complacency in the awarding of land.

“The chamber is excited about the anticipated development but it needs to be controlled. We have had persons who have come here and bought land under speculation,” Gajie noted.