Chairman Yesu Persaud
Consultant Adviser Mr. Samuel J. Goolsarran
Members of the Media
Thank you for your kind invitation to join you this evening. My wife Rosaura and are grateful for the warm welcome we have received from all of you, and the wonderful people of Guyana.
I am honored to be among such a distinguished group of individuals representing a wide cross section of business leaders. I applaud Chairman Persaud, Mr. Goolsarran and members of the CAGI Council for the leadership they provide.
President Obama paid a visit to the region in early April this year to talk about the importance of the Caribbean and he said that “Tens of millions of Americans are bound to the Caribbean and the Americas through ties of commerce.” The commercial relationship between the United States and Guyana is indicative of such ties. The United States is Guyana’s largest trading partner and with the ExxonMobil discovery in the Stabroek Block is poised to become your largest foreign investor. When I arrived in Guyana, I came with several overlapping mandates from Washington, but chief among those were the twin instructions to work closely with Guyanese stakeholders to ensure macroeconomic stability and to improve the country’s overall business climate.
I will not dwell tonight on the difficult challenges that Guyana faces in moving forward on both of those fronts. Many of you were with me earlier this week at the GMSA annual dinner and heard first-hand from Finance Minister Jordan on Guyana’s macro-economic challenges. As to the business climate, you probably understand the challenges from a first-hand perspective in a way that I never could. Instead, I would like to outline briefly five policy and programmatic areas in which I believe that the United States Embassy and the Guyanese business community can and should partner over the coming months.
First, public security as we all understand is inextricably linked to the business climate and feeds into both international and domestic investment decisions. Work to address Guyana’s growing crime wave is ongoing and is an area that unquestionably requires government leadership. And while you may not agree with every decision that Minister Ramjattan has made since taking office, I am convinced that a good faith effort is being made on the part of the government to find and implement solutions to the public security crisis. Work by business leaders such as yourselves, however, will be a critical element of the solution. Developing training programs that lead to employment or entrepreneurship programs for young people from at-risk backgrounds is best done by the private sector, and I believe that greater collaboration between donors, such as the U.S. Embassy, and private sector organizations can only help to expand such opportunities. For that reason, I would hope that in the coming months, we can work collaboratively to expand the existing partnerships between the U.S. Embassy’s at-risk youth programming and the business community, which thanks to your support has seen nearly 2000 youth complete life and work skills training and hundreds placed into full-time employment.
Second, transparency and accountability have become global watchwords for potential investors, particularly in developing countries experiencing rapid growth in extractive industries. Such growth for Guyana has already begun with the first gold pours from the Guyana Goldfields and Troy Resources projects and will only accelerate as ExxonMobil moves forward with development of the “significant oil find” made earlier this year on the Stabroek Block. To meet the global and domestic calls for greater transparency, the government has committed to establishing a Sovereign Wealth Fund, joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and recently announced its intent to join the Open Government Partnership. As we all know, however, these commitments must now be met by action. And that is where donors and the private sector will need to engage. Each of these initiatives require stakeholder consultation, engagement, and participation in industry steering committees. The United States is committed to provide assistance to ensure that the government has the technical capacity to meet its commitments and is prepared to use our voice to highlight areas of concern. In both areas, however, our efforts will be stronger and more effective, if we can count on the partnership of our friends in the Guyana public sector.
Third, social responsibility within a country’s private sector is an increasing consumer and investor concern as they consider globally where to place their funds. If Guyana is to be able to compete effectively in both spheres, compliance with global labor norms and standards will be increasingly important. It is no secret to anyone here that Guyana’s labor rights record in numerous areas – discrimination, trafficking-in-persons, health and safety standards, and child labor to name but a few – has been historically lacking. We have already seen renewed interest within the Ministry of Social Protection in carrying out its labor inspection responsibilities in order to ensure that national standards are adhered to. However, as savvy businesses around the world are recognizing, this is an area in which it is better for the private sector to lead rather than to follow. I would encourage all of you to examine the labor practices within your own industries, to look at the social protections currently offered to employees, and to lead the way in developing sensible and socially responsible standards that advance the status of worker rights in Guyana. As the Guyanese private sector led the way in establishing workplace policies both to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission and to protect HIV-positive individuals from discrimination, I would urge you to do so once again as we work to eliminate sexual harassment and protect women from workplace discrimination; as we fight to eliminate modern-day slavery in the form of human trafficking; and as we seek to eliminate workplace discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Fourth, I am convinced that the prospects for two-way trade between Guyana and the United States can be increased. Guyana already has preferential access to U.S. markets under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, but these potentially important duty concessions remain, in my mind, underutilized. In talking with business experts both here and in the United States, it appears to me that lack of clear information on U.S. trade regulations, sanitary requirements, and phytosanitary procedures may well be an unrecognized and unaddressed impediment to accessing U.S. markets. While I cannot promise large-scale trade development programs, I can offer the assistance of the U.S. government in ensuring that our requirements are as transparent as possible to Guyanese businesses. The Commercial Section at our Embassy is capable of facilitating information exchange between interested business persons and the myriad of U.S. agencies that have a role in import regulation. I am committed to ensuring that we reach out to you on a more proactive basis to make these services available and to facilitate dialogue between businesspeople and our trade regulation agencies.
Finally, functioning democracies are at the heart of any nation’s business environment, and elected local governments are at the key of such democracy. I know that many of you have been long-time supporters of early local government elections in order to restore basic municipal services to the public. It is heartening that the government has announced its intentions to hold elections by the end of the first quarter next year, and I am confident that we will shortly see the necessary legal obligations for a March 2016 election date fulfilled. It will come as no surprise to any of you that the U.S. Embassy is prepared to work in partnership with all stakeholders to ensure that these upcoming elections are free, fair, and credible. I understand that during the 2015 national elections, partnership between donors and the business community was key to such efforts. I would hope that as we embark on yet another electoral contest that such collaboration would once again be repeated. It would be most appropriate and fitting, as Guyana is set to celebrate 50 years of independence next year, that the country honors its constitution by holding local government elections.
I look forward to working with all of you in the coming months and years as together we strengthen our bilateral relationship and build a brighter future for the people of both our countries.