Competitive but cooperative- Guyana/Suriname finalising terms for joint business council

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It was anticipated that among the outcomes of the recent visit by President Chandrikapersd Santokhi and members of the Surinamese Business Association (Vereniging Surinaams Bedrijfsleven – VSB) would have been the launch of a Joint Business Council.

While that did not materialise, the excitement regarding the prospects of such a framework for ensuring synergy between the two competitive but cooperative private sector bodies remains intact with work ongoing to finalise the terms of that arrangement.

Chairman of the Trade and Investment Committee of Guyana’s Private Sector Commission (PSC) Ramesh Dookhoo, while speaking to the News Room on Monday, provided insights on the engagements that took place in Georgetown last week and what can be expected in the months to come.

He explained that leading up to the visit of President Santokhi, the two countries held meetings with private sector and government representatives along with persons from regulatory trade bodies such as the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).

Ramesh Dookhoo

He said those discussions were not finalised and are still ongoing by a joint committee chaired by Ambassador Elizabeth Harper, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Those discussions include, but are not limited to harmonising legal exports, the free movement of people and products and the implementation of the existing border protocol.

“The Private Sector Commission has been challenged to come up with the terms of reference. We are not completely finished with our proposal and I think our counterparts were not adequately briefed in the government to private sector communication,” Mr. Dookhoo said.

The PSC and VSB had said in a joint statement that “many significant steps [were] taken towards the development of a joint market and strategic business partnerships.”

According to Dookhoo, there were two meetings between the two sides, one at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre which were short-lived because of time constraints, and another at the Pegasus Hotel where the PSC hosted a working breakfast.

Although VSB is a young organisation, the PSC has a longstanding relationship with the Suriname Chambers of Commerce, a statutory body that represents over 30, 000 members.

Dookhoo said the PSC was “extremely pleased” to be linked with VSB and proud of the progress made in strengthening economic ties and initiatives regarding the two countries’ shared interests and the creation of the envisioned single market and economy.

Notwithstanding, he cautioned that any new arrangement between Guyana and Suriname would have to be in the context of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the economic integration and cooperation framework for CARICOM member states.

“We have to tackle the real issues affecting trade [between the two countries] but it has to be done within the given rules and regulations of the CARICOM regime and what it provides for.

“We have a sensitive business community here in Guyana… we are not opposed to growth and cooperation as well as competition, we just want to ensure we are treated equally and vice versa,” Dookhoo added.

The PSC’s lead figure on trade assured that the cooperation is to ensure beneficial synergy where the two sides can gain from each other in areas where excellence has been noted.

Dookhoo said there is already established cooperation between the two sides with several Surinamese businesses opening locations here and Guyanese manufacturing businesses forming relationships with distribution companies in Suriname.

He noted, however, that among the concerns, particularly from the Suriname representatives, is the single market that already exists in the cross-border economy that would now call for clear modern legislation to address the security concerns linked to smuggling, the trading of illicit items, and money laundering.

“There is a huge security issue which has to be looked at holistically… both countries are inadequately equipped to deal with the huge waterways and huge exposure of its coastline.

“So you see why legal businesses have a lot of work that has to get done.”

Dookhoo said the PSC looks forward to working with the government on this and offers its full support while it also anticipates a visit from the Suriname Chamber of Commerce soon and another visit to Suriname with President Irfaan Ali.

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