46th Heads of Government Meeting: Pres Ali urges swift removal of trade barriers, challenges citizens to pressure leaders

– says Caribbean too small to be competing against each other

By Jarryl Bryan

In his first address to the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Heads of Government as Chairman of the group, President Dr Irfaan Ali made an urgent call for regional leaders to remove trade barriers among their countries and more so, challenged citizens to pressure them to do so.
Guyana is presently hosting the 46th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of Caricom. On Sunday, during the opening ceremony at the National Cultural Centre, President Ali, who took over chairmanship of the regional body last month, reemphasised the importance of removing trade barriers as an important prerequisite to further regional integration.
“We’re continuing work to address the removal of trade barriers within member states. And the people of Caricom must put pressure on the leaders of Caricom to remove the trade barriers. [They are] of no use and purpose for this region.”
“We are too small to be competing against each other. People of this region call upon your leaders to remove these barriers. Let them hear you loudly. These barriers need to go and must go urgently. I don’t think we can be more accountable than that,” President Ali said.
Guyana has been actively working with other regional countries on dismantling trade barriers. In 2022, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), with the two countries agreeing to work with each other in eradicating non-tariff trade barriers, as well as in the areas of infrastructural development and transportation.
Also in 2022, the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), which is responsible for promoting trade and economic development within Caricom, had suspended the Common External Tariff (CET) on several items at Guyana’s request.
Since then, the Ministerial Task Force on Food Security, which is chaired by Guyana, has been addressing non-tariff trade barriers and engaging with technical personnel from various countries. This is also part of the work to implement the 25 by 2025 plan, which will see the Region slashing its food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.

Dignitaries at the opening ceremony

Months after assuming office in 2020, President Ali charged the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry to assess and address the hurdles related to exporting food and agricultural products to markets within the Region.
The Ministry subsequently formed a National Working Group on Barriers to Trade against Exports from Guyana. According to the assessment on market access by the Working Group, most of the challenges found were related to technical measures including sanitary and phytosanitary measures. It also found several technical and administrative regulations that were hampering the export of Guyanese products.

Regional financing
President Ali also provided an update on other efforts to further regional integration, such as the low-interest US$100 million financing to Caricom States that was announced in 2022, to further help in reducing food imports. The Guyanese Head of State was at the time attending the 33rd Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of Caricom in Belize.
This financing would provide funding for up to five years for repaying up to G$2 billion to Guyana and US$100 million to all Caricom member states, with interest rates as low as 2.5 per cent.
“The low-interest US$100 million facility by Republic Bank Limited has been activated, with the first US$17 million dispersed already in food and agriculture projects within the Region.
“We’ll be launching a programme, a development programme, soon for the Region to better position itself and its Private Sector, to benefit from this low-interest facility from Republic Bank,” President Ali said on Sunday.
At the time the financing was announced, Republic Bank Limited had been named the lender agency through a facility called the Caricom Sustainability Agriculture Credit Facility.
This was a special facility designed for agricultural activities including but not limited to the development of priority crops, capital equipment for farming, feeder roads to provide access to arable lands, bulk storage for crops, processing plants, and shade house farming.