All Guyanese must unite to reject efforts to undermine our local content law

A few months ago, I had occasion to reject the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago’s “dissing” Guyana’s vaccination programme. With respect, I had to let the PM of Trinidad and Tobago know he was totally out of line. I love Trinidad and Tobago. I have many friends in Trinidad and Tobago. But I could not allow anyone, not even the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago “dissing” Guyana’s vaccination programme. I did not realise then that I would so soon have to again rebuke someone from Trinidad and Tobago for “dissing” our country. The President and CEO of Massy, using a forum provided by CPSO, intimated a threat to challenge Guyana’s Local Content Policy at the CCJ on the basis that it violates the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. This brazen threat is out of place, provocative and vexatious. Mr Gervase Warner needs to apologise. I am relieved that Suresh Beharry, from one of Guyana’s long-time private enterprise family, dissociated himself from that Caricom private sector Organisation internal email.
The CPSO, a private sector organisation in Trinidad and Tobago linked to Caricom, with companies such as Massy, provided a forum for Mr Warner to brazenly question the Local Content Policy of Guyana, a policy that is now law in our country. We must not equivocate, we must together in absolute solidarity reject the threat from Trinidad and Tobago to challenge Guyana’s local content law at the CCJ. We must let them know that we will do everything in our power to preserve Guyana’s local content law. Guyana’s Private Sector has immediately been out front rejecting the position articulated by Mr Warner of Massy, a company that has enjoyed the hospitality and generosity of Guyana for decades.
Since CPSO has Caricom’s imprimatur, I would hope that Caricom is not timid in dissociating itself from the statement. Every citizen, every organisation and every Government in Caricom has a right to approach the CCJ. This is not Caricom’s fault. But Caricom’s silence could also give the impression that Caricom is challenging Guyana’s local content law. Silence is not an option for Caricom on this matter. For CPSO itself, they must let us know if Mr Warner spoke on behalf of himself, Massy and or CPSO. Clearly, one member, Suresh Beharry, has explicitly stated the companies he represents are fully supportive of Guyana’s local content law.
Guyana’s Government has stood strong in claiming local content and in defining local content to ensure that Guyanese citizens and Guyanese businesses enjoy our fair share of Guyana’s wealth.
The media houses in Guyana must take a lead – every newspaper should carry a Page One condemnation of the Massy CEO and of CPSO. Every political party must stand up for Guyana, no “ifs and buts”. As a country we must stand together on certain things. There is absolutely no room for us to stand apart on this issue. Every one of the commentators who has been talking about “our oil resources” cannot now excuse in any way the Trinidadians. As stated before, kudos to Guyana’s Private Sector, they immediately responded.
I saw at least one of the regular commentators, Mr Chris Ram, out front rejecting the Massy CEO’s position. But there are other commentators who are daily out front questioning whether we are getting enough from the oil resources, but forty-eight hours after the blast from Trinidad, they are silent, still very silent. Guyana’s Opposition political parties stand indicted by their silence. Certain NGOs, who insist they have a right to speak out, even if their organisations are made up of a handful of people cannot pick and choose when they are vocal and when they are quiet when it comes to defending Guyana’s right to our patrimony.
Trinidad and Tobago has been the Caricom country that has victimised our country the most over the years. When it comes to utilising non-tariff barriers to stop our Private Sector from entering domestic markets, no country in Caricom has been more brutal than Trinidad and Tobago. I recall, as Minister of Agriculture, while doing outreaches in Essequibo, I received a call from GRDB asking me if I could assist. A shipment of rice to Trinidad was held up at the wharf in Port of Spain because of a methyl bromide fumigation requirement that all countries in Caricom had agreed to phase out as an obligation under the Stockholm Convention. Guyana and Trinidad had already implemented the discontinuation of methyl bromide fumigation at the time. It was a clear case of non-tariff barrier. I called the Minister in Trinidad who said he will intervene. A senior agriculture officer then said we could take back the ship into the sea and fumigate with methyl bromide. It was a ridiculous requirement.
At the Caricom level, a task force was established to address the issue of non-tariff barriers that Caricom countries were utilising to stop products from Guyana entering their markets. The Minister from Trinidad and Tobago was the Chair. The committee barely met. As Minister of Agriculture, I tried to push that task force. We met two times in Trinidad. After 2015, I never heard anything about the task force. It is either in hibernation or disbanded.
But the litany of complaints about our products entering the domestic market in Trinidad and Tobago simply continues to grow. Pepper, pine apple, other agriculture products, such as meat and honey, had the most absurd non-tariff requirement imposed that essentially meant our products were banned. Simultaneously, the Private Sector had total freedom to participate in the Guyanese market space. There was no restriction on Trinidad and Tobago’s products entering Guyana. The entry of soft drinks from Trinidad almost paralysed Guyana’s own beverage industry. Trinidad’s contractors and professionals had and still have freedom to operate in Guyana.
I know the threat to challenge our local content law is not coming from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago at this time. I know this threatened challenge is from one part of the private sector in Trinidad and Tobago. But we must nip this threat in the bud. We must let people know that Guyana will continue to be hospitable to our Caribbean sisters and brothers. But this generosity must not be mistaken for stupidity and for weakness.
Guyana, as it always has done, will continue to be an important player in Caricom. It was wrong for some countries to look down on us when we were down. Our experiences, even as passengers in-transit, were dehumanising sometimes, often, in fact, in those desperate years. Now that we have the potential of being the lead economy in Caricom, now that our fortunes have improved, we will not look down on our Caricom sisters and brothers. It is not who we are. Our advice to those who want to challenge our local content law is that our welcome is still as generous as before. Find your niche in Guyana and prosper, but not at our expense.