New Chamber seeking to boost Africa – Guyana trade, start direct flights
By Kurt Campbell
Guyana and other countries across the Caribbean region are being presented with a new opportunity to access Africa directly and improve trade with the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent.
A newly operational African Caribbean Chambers of Trade, Commerce and Industry, has moved in the direction of CARICOM and has opened its head office along Lamaha Street, Georgetown.
In so doing, it is making a special appeal to private sector bodies across Guyana to have a keen approach to the new opportunities being presented to increase its commodity exports to Africa, supporting new and future prospects for direct flights and shipping.
During an exclusive interview with the News Room on Wednesday, President of the Chamber, Onoja Atta Onoja, underscored the importance for members of the local private sector to take advantage of the opportunities being presented.
“It will be a little unfortunate for you to have the head office in your country and the rest of the world is profiting from it,” he said.
Although operational for less than a year, the establishment of the Chamber to push trade between Africa and the Caribbean has been in the works for years.
Among its priority is to commence direct air travel between the Caribbean region and Africa, something that doesn’t exist and has contributed to expensive and lengthy travel experiences.
Onoja said the Chamber expects to have the first chartered flight service by the next quarter, taking off from Jamaica, which will also encapsulate a test run through Guyana.
The plan is to have at least two direct access points from Africa to the Caribbean with Trinidad and Guyana being explored to help facilitate this level of direct transport between Africa and the Caribbean.
With it comes every other spin-off benefits, including the easy flow of commodities to and from Africa, slashing travel time and cost.
“Shipping will then come up and finally the hurdles [to trade between African and the Caribbean] will be solved by this new transportation system… because bringing direct air services will be a temporary cushion but when the volume picks up for commodity trade we will definitely have direct shipping,” he added.
Lack of direct flights and shipping has been the main obstacle to increased trade between the two blocs, and for years, made the buying and selling of goods and services costly and less viable.
And even with Guyana’s new oil and gas sector, the Chamber has kept its focus on the traditional sectors promising to conduct its work across the manufacturing, agriculture, air services and tourism industries.
“We know about the experience in other countries where oil causes every other sector to fall asleep but we want to concentrate on the real sectors… oil to me is a temporary phase, it will come and go but the real sectors will be there even when it is gone,” he added.
The Chamber is also looking to tap into the areas of real estate and is currently engaged in a market mapping venture to see what commodities can go where. There is already interest in Guyana’s rum, rice and other agricultural products, Onoja told the News Room.
He explained that trade between the Caribbean and Africa, although slowed because of COVID-19, accounts for some US$2 billion annually.
Guyana itself hasn’t been able to take a large chunk, securing trade to just about US$20 million per year owing to tourism.
Guyana doesn’t have much of any commodity being sent to Africa currently but there has been an inflow of farine, red oil, soaps, African fabric and other fashion among others that arrive in Guyana to mainly service the African immigrant population here which is said to be below 1,000 people.
With the first office for the Chamber opened in Guyana, Onoja said that over time, representatives in the other Caribbean countries will continue to work with plans to set up other offices as the demand on the ground requires.
The chamber is seeking partnership with CARICOM to actualize its mandate and in the coming weeks, there are several engagements planned directly with the Guyana Government and the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce and the Ministry of Public Works.
Consultations will also continue with private sector bodies across the 10 administrative regions in Guyana. Asked about the response the Chamber has received since it commenced work in Guyana, Onoja explained that it has been “mixed.
He said there is optimism in some sectors which the Chamber had not intended initially to explore.
“I expect that as time goes on things will pick up… everything new comes with a mixed bag. Once members of the private sector understand that there is a viable market they will tap into it,” he added.