By Vishani Ragobeer
Days after he rapped Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states for their lacklustre attempts to remove intra-regional trade barriers, President Dr. Irfaan Ali has warned that there will be consequences for countries that maintain these barriers.
The President issued this warning as part of his lengthy address at the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association (GMSA)’s Annual Presentation of Awards ceremony on Friday night at the Ramada Hotel on the East Bank of Demerara.
Local businesses continue to lament the trade challenges that exist when they attempt to export goods. These include non-tariff barriers such as quotas, embargoes, sanctions and levies and affects some exports to CARICOM markets.
But the President assured the gathering of mainly private sector players that Guyana is adamant about ensuring that there is a fair regional trading system.
“We are going to lead the charge to remove the barriers for all our products all across this region,” Dr. Ali emphasised.
And he continued, “There will be consequences for those who think they can keep the barriers.”
It is important to note that CARICOM is a regional bloc built on a model of promoting free movement of people and goods within the region. Many countries – not just Guyana – have criticised CARICOM for not yet achieving this.
In fact, as it relates to the export of goods within the Caribbean, Guyana, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica and Barbados have expressed concerns more recently. Guyana, which has been touted as a potential ‘breadbasket’ of the Caribbean, has been quite vocal.
To counter this challenge, countries have been engaging bilaterally. The recent commitment made by Guyana and Barbados to remove all trade barriers between them is a recent example. Still, Dr. Ali said that more needs to be done.
“We cannot be serious in this region about integration and all the fancy talk if we are not going to remove the barriers,” he lamented.
The issue of intra-regional trade barriers has been a central focus on successive leaders of some CARICOM countries, particularly since the region’s food import bill, for example, is around US $5 billion.
As Guyana advances it agenda to removing these trade barriers, Dr. Ali said that the local authorities will ensure that significant investments are made in establishing and/or revamping local laboratories so that the goods exported are of the highest standard and quality.
In doing so, he believes that countries will have fewer excuses to maintain the trade barriers. In the same vein, he called on local producers and manufacturers to ensure that their products are ‘up to scratch’.
What is important, he said, is that while the government will pursue the necessary policy changes, local businesses have to align themselves to the impending positive changes. He emphasised that the government and the business sector are not isolated from each other.