By Vishani Ragobeer
Guyana and Guatemala have entered into fresh bilateral talks that could see Guyana producing coffee and palm oil, while both countries boost their agricultural sectors through mutual learning and shared opportunities.
This is according to President Dr. Irfaan Ali who spoke at a press conference at State House in Georgetown on Sunday, days after he met with President of Guatemala Alejandro Giammattei Falla at a Central American and Caribbean summit.
The Guyanese Head-of-State rated Guatemala as an agricultural “powerhouse,” noting that this productive sector accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s economy, three-quarters of its export earnings, and half of the local labour force.
And Guyana is seeking to leverage the Central American country’s prowess in agriculture as it seeks to expand local and regional food production.
“We’re talking about helping us to revitalise, improve coffee production in Guyana (and) other high-value crops like palm oil,” President Ali said.
CARICOM, according to President Ali, spends about US $142 million importing palm oil and US $9.5 million importing coffee.
But the President also said that there are other new plans for the budding Guyana/ Guatemala partnership.
“We’re not only talking about technical opportunities but about twinning opportunities,” he highlighted.
This twinning of opportunities, he explained, means that Guyana and Guatemala will be able to learn from the strengths and shortcomings of each other.
Revitalising Guyana’s sugar industry is another key focus as Guatemala is a top global exporter of this product. President Ali reiterated his government’s interest in revitalising the sugar industry, cognisant of the social, economic, and financial benefits of doing so.
In two weeks’ time, Guyana will be finalising an exchange visit and action agenda with Guatemala. This is expected to inform the specific ways the two countries will work together in the future.
Meanwhile, President Ali also noted that Honduras, another Central American country, is expected to aid in the production of coffee in Guyana.
This collaboration with Guatemala and Honduras is part of a wider focus Guyana now has on engaging Central American partners.
“We have not been looking at Central America and the opportunities that Central America presents for us in terms of agriculture, effectively in my humble opinion,” President Ali said, explaining the partnership thrust now.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is also seeking to deepen relations with its Central American counterpart – SICA. Both regional blocs have signalled an interest in working more closely, particularly in boosting food security and reducing the massive amounts of money spent on importing food.
Guyana, which has the responsibility for food security in CARICOM, sees deepening ties with Central America as part of a plan to reduce the millions spent on importing cocoa, coffee, and palm oil.
Already, President Ali has been able to advance talks on securing low-cost financing for agricultural investments throughout the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Through this initiative, funding up to GY $2 billion to Guyana and US $100 million (or GY $20 billion) to all CARICOM states can be provided with interest rates as low as 2.5 per cent.
And these sums can be repaid over a maximum of five years.
With President Ali outlining how countries can significantly expand their food production, thereby adding to the volume of food produced in the region, a regional investment conference will be held to attract private sector investments.
That conference is slated for Georgetown, Guyana from May 19 to 21, this year.