Remarks as prepared
Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch
Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association Annual General Meeting
March 31, 2022
President of Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association, Mr. Rafeek Khan,
Senior Minister in the Office of the President with Responsibility for Finance the honorable Dr. Ashni Singh,
Minister of Natural Resources the honorable Vickram Bharrat,
Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, the honorable Oneidge Walrond,
Minister within the Ministry of Public Works the honorable Deodat Indar
Exxon Mobil Country Manager Mr. Alistair Routledge,
Honorable Members of the GMSA,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good afternoon everyone, it’s great to be here in person. Congratulations to Mr. Rafeek Khan and your executive team for another productive year for GMSA. I know that you have had a successful year in growing your membership. I also know you have big plans to continue growing, developing manufacturing, and improving the business environment in Guyana.
Today I want to offer you my thoughts on GMSA’s role in Guyana’s economic diversification, some challenges and opportunities that are before us, and why I am so excited to have amazing U.S. firms here in Guyana partnering with Guyana’s best.
I know GMSA recently updated its mission: “To provide leadership and institutional capacity to initiate, advocate and promote policies and programs for the development of the manufacturing and services sectors to ensure compliance with global best practices and due regard for social and environmental issues.”
I applaud GMSA’s role as a leading support organization in Guyana’s development, and your work to help Guyana achieve economic diversification. Guyana’s favorable trend of economic growth will very likely continue for years to come thanks to massive increases in international investment in the oil and gas sector, but we know that economic growth does not always result in economic diversification. In order to enable economic diversification, we also know that lower-cost, more reliable electricity must be available for manufacturers. Land leases or permits must be available to agricultural investors, and reliable and high-quality infrastructure must be built including roads, bridges, and ports.
In addition, the tender process for selecting firms to support in these areas should really be modernized so Guyana receives the high-quality products it deserves which will enable its diversification. We know both the government and private sector are beginning to address some of these areas, and we are doing our part at the embassy by informing some of the best firms in the world about the opportunities in Guyana. Some of these firms are large, others are small, and several have already developed joint ventures with Guyanese firms, including in the area of agriculture.
Economic diversification is absolutely critical to achieving prosperity for all. Just as Guyana’s high tide enables bigger ships to come to port, economic diversification can be a high tide that lifts all sectors and all people of Guyana. In addition, diversification will serve as a guard rail for Guyana against the Dutch Disease. Guyana has the opportunity to benefit greatly from the involvement of U.S. firms, and as I mentioned, the arrival of U.S. firms does not necessarily bring competitors, but rather partners.
When U.S. firms are bidding on local tenders, one of their first questions is often “Are there strong local partners in this sector with whom we could build a mutually beneficial partnership?” My answer is always, “Yes!” Of course, such firms have high standards lots of rules which and will likely require their own vetting of partners, but the U.S. Embassy is very excited about the economic opportunities for local businesses that are reliable, trustworthy, and reputable. Embassy Georgetown will continue to counsel U.S. firms on both the magnificent opportunities, but also the challenges present in Guyana, both of which I am sure you know much better than I.
Even as the agricultural and manufacturing sectors continue to develop, one of Guyana’s greatest strengths is its natural environment and the potential for tourism. However, Guyana continues to have high electricity and other costs that make it an expensive place for tourists. For both expatriates and Guyanese, it is often cheaper and easier to vacation in Barbados or Miami than it is in the South Rupununi. With regard to foodstuffs, there are often more products on the shelves here in Guyana from other Caribbean countries, rather than from Guyana. We are convinced that reliable, lower-cost electricity is absolutely crucial to changing these realities, as is reliable infrastructure that is built to last. Again, because of these binding constraints, we are encouraging local businesses to consider partnering with U.S. firms who want to partner in the long-term development of Guyana. Yes, sometimes their high standards, rules and regulations will require additional work or certification on your part, but we believe that work will pay off for your businesses in the long run.
GMSA’s vision “To contribute to an economically vibrant Guyana in which producers, manufacturers and service providers are the nation’s key drivers of growth,” to me represents a wonderful opportunity for Guyana and the region. You make products, add value to food, make parts for machines, build homes, and do so much more. The world is watching Guyana, and guess what, your fellow Guyanese have some high expectations as well. You are the engines of growth, and you know it’s not just the big companies in the room. I applaud GMSA for recognizing the importance of small and medium size enterprises as key contributors to the overall growth of the economy and creating a space for tangible progress.
At the Offshore Technology Conference last year in Houston, I was highly impressed by the popularity of the Guyanese booth, and I know you came away with more than one signed MOU. Quality U.S. companies continue to be very interested in partnering with you to bring prosperity to all Guyanese. Last year in the first three quarters alone, the trade between our two countries was 1.6 billion USD. And we’re just getting started. U.S. companies are ready to partner in a number of areas, not just in the oil and gas sector, but also infrastructure, agriculture, health care, services, tourism, etc.
Which to me, in a way, represents a positive shift in the narrative we are promoting when it comes to economic cooperation with U.S. companies. Let’s be honest. The floodgates have opened. Guyana is truly “open for business.” The companies are coming, and they’re coming often. More than 3,000 Guyanese benefit directly from good jobs in the oil and gas sector, but we know the numbers are much higher especially when you factor in the indirect employment numbers. What we know for sure is that Guyanese youth can now look to great jobs here in Guyana instead of overseas.
Many of the Guyanese I speak with who are working at U.S. firms now note how excited they were to get a good job, and to get it because of their qualifications and not just who they knew. Going forward, I encourage you business executives to look for good local talent. Look at an applicants’ expertise, his/her track record of accomplishments, and his/her ability to work as part of your team. Hire your staff on merit so you can grow the best possible team for your businesses.
So, what now? Where do we go from here to build Guyana’s sustainability and ensure that the Dutch disease does not take hold? I believe that can be achieved by increasing the standards at which we all operate and leave any bad habits in the past. This will require work by all, including the private and public sectors. President Ali has made this call across many sectors, whether in construction or agriculture. Health and safety standards must be upheld, training must be of the highest quality so standards are met and kept, and processes must be transparent and equitable so everyone has a fair chance to compete and grow.
Let me also make another quick point on health and safety. I first have to applaud the American Chamber of Commerce for hosting a Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) summit just last week that highlighted the significance of the topic of safety and how Guyanese and U.S. firms here can better maintain high standards. Industrial accidents can have a major impact on a company’s bottom line. The costs of workplace injuries and illnesses include direct costs like workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and costs for legal services, along with indirect costs like training replacement employees, accident investigation and implementation of corrective measures, lost productivity, repairs of damaged equipment and property, and costs associated with lower employee morale and absenteeism.
U.S. companies know the cost of injury very well. That is why safety is such an important part of everyday procedures. You’ll see signs up all over the walls of any given U.S. company with “safety first” or “caution, wet floor” if someone is cleaning up. Falls on construction sites, back strain from lifting improperly, mining accidents are just some of the examples of events that cost money and time to recover from. No one wants their company to be the one that is known for taking the easy road with regard to the health and safety of its employees. Employers will find that implementing the recommended practices also brings other benefits. Safety and health programs help businesses prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, reduce costs, and increase productivity and enhance overall business operations and attract quality talent. People want to work in a safe environment. While enhancing operations of companies, it is so important to include standards and gain relevant international accreditation in order to safely and sustainably grow. And, accreditation is not merely a credential but rather throughout the process will create new opportunities for businesses to consider and utilize.
And, that brings me back to you all sitting here today. Allow me to not only congratulate Guyana on the start to a transformative decade in your country, but to challenge you to be the role models for the country in terms of improving the standards for quality and service in the private sector. Be role models for the private sector. You’re in the limelight, on the world stage. I urge you to be responsible leaders, be innovative and commit to making international standards work for your companies. Take this opportunity to heart and be the change you wish to see. Some of the best U.S. companies are already here and ready to do more with you. So, let’s continue to build meaningful, productive partnerships even as we work towards solutions when challenges arise.
Thank you very much.