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Guyana President Starts Whirlwind Independence State Visit Today!

By VOICE Reporters
Guyana’s President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali
Guyana’s President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali

GUYANA’S President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali’s state visit, as the island’s special guest for its 45th Independence Anniversary, kicks-off today with an address by the visiting Caribbean leader to a Joint Sitting of the Saint Lucia Parliament (The Upper and Lower Houses )  from 10am,  attended by the Governor General, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

The St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce will also host President Ali at a special Executive Luncheon at the Harbour Club from 12:30pm, where the Guyanese leader will speak on ‘Opportunities to Do Business in Guyana – The World’s Fastest-growing Economy’, during which he’ll most likely make a pitch to local business persons to take a new look at Guyana and see it as the region’s newest investment frontier.

According to a Chamber statement, the President will speak on “Offerings, Insights, Perspectives and Prospects for the Guyana Economy” and “How St. Lucian Business people can be Part of its Growth and Success.”

It adds, “The entire business community, particularly persons interested in investing and doing business in Guyana, are invited to be part of this prestigious and historic event”, which “presents a unique opportunity for networking, learning, and fostering connections between our communities.”

President Ali will also meet with the Guyanese Community in St. Lucia at what is dubbed a ‘Special Meeting’.  This Meeting will take place today at the Financial Center in Castries from 3:00 – 5:30 pm.

According to a press release from the Guyanese community here today’s meeting will provide an opportunity for open dialogue on major developments happening in Guyana and matters of concern to members of the Guyana/St. Lucia Community.

Guyana has responsibility for Agriculture and Food Security in CARICOM and President Ali may also discuss related issues with Prime Minister Pierre during his short visit, which include the island’s performance in the regional quest to achieve a reduction of the region’s food import bill by 25% by the end of 2025.

Prime Minister Pierre has responsibility for regional transport and Climate Change issues and the two leaders can also exchange ideas, briefly, on these matters.

President Ali, who is also current chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and President of the United Nations General Assembly, is expected to address related issues with an emphasis on how better to strengthen bilateral ties, as well as regional and international cooperation.

The two CARICOM member-states have shared long ties since colonial times and today work together on advancing regional and economic growth and wider cooperation, while strengthening bilateral ties.

Saint Lucia-Guyana trade has been mainly limited to the island bulk-purchasing sugar and rice from the South American mainland, but under the current PPP-Civic administration, Georgetown has also been inviting CARICOM neighbours to increase and improve ties at other business levels, including energy, manufacturing, mining, forestry, services and ICT.

With Guyana’s new oil wealth already significantly impacting Caribbean growth figures at different levels, the government there has also been encouraging national private sector entities across the region to re-think their previous negative attitudes to investment in Guyana and embrace new opportunities opened-up by the nation’ mew wealth.

Fuelled by Oil & Gas, Guyana’s economy has been energetically propelled to a state where investors are pouring into the Caribbean nation at a speedy rate.

But while Caribbean businesses may not be able to compete with the multinationals in the energy sector, Guyana is also growing its tourism industry, constructing new hotels and now boasting a capacity for 2,000 rooms and opening-up new areas for investment, including trade in domestic jewellery.

Saint Lucia and Guyana have already started building tourism ties, with Tourism Minister Dr Ernest Hilaire and other local government and private sector officials having visited the South American nation last year to strengthen growing ties.

Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte also visited Guyana last year, during which, among other things, she held talks with the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO), which supplies sugar to the island’s government.

Guyana is the region’s largest sugar producer and Saint Lucia recently suffered an embarrassing shortage of availability on local supermarket and grocery shelves, the government explaining it had to do with delayed delivery of shipments from Guyana.

Commerce Minister Hippolyte told the press the suppliers had broken contractual arrangements and that a letter to Guyana expressing concern sent to Guyana in November 2023, was only replied to in February 2024.

Minister Hippolyte also hinted government may have to seek alternative suppliers if the Guyana supplier continues to fall short on agreed delivery times.

Consumers here have strong preference for Guyana sugar, compared with some others of lesser quality and it is largely expected that Minister Hippolyte will raise the issue at some point during President Ali’s visit.

Some forward-looking local investors have long had eyes on Guyana, including construction entrepreneur Rayneau Gajadhar, who operates there a branch of his Hyundai franchise as a Caribbean agent for the giant Asian heavy machinery corporation.

On the other hand, Guyanese play significant roles in local businesses, many having invested here at family levels over decades, including Ronald Ramjattan’s Baron Foods and Guyana-Trinidad Mutual (GTM) insurance, as well as the Gafoor family that’s invested manufacturing in Saint Lu Metals.

Other prominent Guyanese businesses persons locally include former Honorary Guyana Consul and retired local publisher Lokesh Singh, former Guyana presidential candidate and President of Saint Lucia’s Small Business Association (SLISBA) Edward Harris and the late publisher Anthony ‘Tony’ Austin.

Guyana is the current President of the UN Security Council and President Ali will likely update Prime Minister Pierre on related issues such as CARICOM’s position on international demands for an end to Israel’s war on Gaza.

President Ali will also update PM Pierre on the latest updates in the Guyana-Venezuela controversy over the latter’s claim to the oil-rich and expansive Essequibo region, which comprise more than half of CARICOM’s largest member-state.

PM Pierre attended the historic December 14, 2023 Guyana-Venezuela Summit in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines between President Ali and his Venezuelan counterpart President Nicolas Maduro, where the two presidents agreed to a three-month discussion process mediated by Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and his Caribbean counterparts, to take place in Brazil.

Discussions are under way in Brazil, with the 90-day deadline due in mid-March.

Meanwhile, President Ali will also pay a courtesy call on Acting Governor General Errol Charles.

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