Private Sector warns against detrimental agreement with T&T

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By Bibi Khatoon

Following the disclosure that Trinidad and Tobago will soon be renewing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Guyana, the private sector is warning against any clause that can be detrimental to local businesses.

As a matter of fact, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at its Waterloo Street, Georgetown office, called for the Guyana Government to consult with the business community before signing the MoU.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley at a public meeting in Marabella, Trinidad on Tuesday evening, touted the arrangement as an opening for the twin island’s private sector to benefit from Guyana’s developing oil and gas industry.

“This money [from the petroleum industry] is going to generate all kinds of business operation in Guyana,” the Trinidadian PM told those gathered at the meeting streamed live on CN3 Television Facebook Page.

Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, D Keith Rowley

Though efforts to confirm the renewal of the MoU with Government officials in Guyana proved futile, Dr Rowley disclosed that he will be in Guyana on Wednesday, September 12, to sign the document.

This document he said, “opens the way for Trinidad and Tobago’s companies to participate in the prosperity that is coming to the Guyanese even if Guyanese oil doesn’t come to our refinery.”

But when contacted, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told News Room Wednesday that he does not have any knowledge about signing any MoU with Trinidad and referred all queries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

However, News Room was unable to make contact with the Director General of the Ministry and subject Minister, Carl Greenidge is out of the jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, President of the GCCI, Deodat Indar told reporters, “I am asking the Government to hold on this. Let the private sector see what the verbiages in this MoU so that we know that it will not be adverse to us,” President of the GCCI, Deodat Indar said.

He noted that the GCCI is not “anti-Trinidadian” or matter of fact “anti-nobody” but there should be consultation on trade and investment related matters.

The organization fears a flood of TT businesses in the local economy.

The GCCI President pointed out that Guyana is yet to put in place Local Content legislation but is ready to commit with MoUs.

Junior Vice President of the GCCI who is also responsible for trade issues, Timothy Tucker referenced instances in the past where Guyanese exporters were discriminated by Trinidad authorities.

He pointed to an incident in February 2015 when T&T fined La Parkan US$3,000 for facilitating the movement of Honey within one mile of its shores in contravention to its laws.

Tucker said the Twin island republic is yet to update its Beekeeping and Bee Products Act to allow Guyana to ship Honey through the country for export to other states and this is hindering the expansion of the beekeeping industry here.

The matter was even broached at the level of Caricom’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) but was never addressed.

“From a trade and investment standpoint, we’re not blocking or saying that Trinidad or any other Caribbean country can’t come to Guyana and invest or trade but aren’t you going to open your doors so that Guyanese companies, Guyanese businesses can leave the shore of Guyana and come to your country and invest or supply you with products?”

Tucker urged the Government that “before you sign anything, look at the barriers that are there that are shutting your businesses down right now.”

Former Natural Resources Minister, Robert Persaud also commented on the impending MoU on Wednesday on his Facebook Page where he noted that “Local content in Guyana’s oil and gas must not be sacrificed by onerous long-term agreements.”

Former Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud

He warned the Government against making long-term commitments with T&T, or with any other country, “so as not to tie our hands and limit our options in oil refining, gas for energy production and other related aspects.”

Persaud, who signed the first MoU on Energy Cooperation in March 2013 with Trinidad, said help in capacity building is always welcomed but the current administration should look at the results of the earlier arrangement with aim of improving and bringing real results to the sector.

He expressed hope that the new document will not be “used as a ruse by TT government to promote TT domination of services, in Guyana, to the oil and gas sector given the failings of its own energy sector.”

The March 2013 MoU included support for off-shore exploration activities, sourcing of equipment and strengthening of public sector institutions for the development of energy and energy-related projects, coordinating and implementing renewable energy projects and organizing joint educations programmes.

That arrangement lasted for two years after which it was not renewed.

At that time also, Guyana was yet to make its first oil discovery which was announced in May 2015.

But Dr Rowley on Tuesday evening said discussions for the renewal began upon his assumption to office in 2015 and was further propelled when he visited Guyana for the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting last year.

His comments came days after TT Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar said her Government should consider refining Guyana’s oil to save its refinery.

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