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Guyana’s Finance Minister Ashni Singh speaking at a press conference in Georgetown on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.  (CMC photo)
Guyana’s Finance Minister Ashni Singh speaking at a press conference in Georgetown on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (CMC photo)
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GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) — Guyana’s Finance Minister Ashni Singh says there’s a strong preference within CARICOM for a market based solution to deal with the transportation problems in the region.

Speaking at the end of the two-day second AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF23) there late Tuesday, Singh told reporters that with regards the transportation problems in the region as well as a time frame for scheduled direct or chartered flights between the Caribbean and Africa “our first preference is for a market-based solution to some of these challenges.

“So there is a problem with poor logistics and connectivity between Africa and the Caribbean. That is given and we’ll be the first to acknowledge that … both in terms of air and sea.

“Secondly, I believe I speak for , I know that I speak for the government of Guyana in this regard and I believe that I speak for most of us across the Caribbean or my position would be closely aligned with theirs when I say that the strong preference is for, like I said, a market-based solutions, one or more private sector operator or operators seeing the opportunities that exists, investing capital to solve, to take advantage of that opportunity and delivering the service as a private sector provider.”

President Irfaan Ali, addressing the ACTIF23, had urged the region’s private sector to form a consortium “and use this opportunity that Africa Ex-Im Bank is offering to end our regional transport system failure…

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“We can plant and grow as much as we want. We can do our processing, manufacturing, industrial development, we can re-engineer the supply chain, but we have to move things, we have to move things throughout the region. We must find the solution,” Ali said

Singh told the news conference “what we would ideally like to see is a private airline seeing this opportunity and introducing a service and/or private shipping companies seeing this opportunity and providing the service.

“Now, we are prepared and that’s the transcontinental link, that’s between Africa and the Caribbean. But even within the Caribbean, we have a challenge with air connectivity and shipping connectivity as well.

“And you would have heard my President speaking at the opening ceremony, when he says that we in Guyana are prepared to provide every incentive available to us within our policy tool kit,  every incentive available to us to incentivise a private investor or a consortium of private investors willing to put together the architecture needed essentially to deliver better shipping services within the Caribbean and the same applies to the transcontinental route, the same applies to the link across the ocean,” Singh said.

He said Guyana is willing to provide all of the incentives that it possibly can within the limits of “our policy tool kit to incentivise the introduction of a direct air service and better shipping links between  African and Caribbean.

“I can also say that there have been discussions with, certainly between Guyana and Barbados and a number of our counterparts in Africa on what we can do on the governmental side to help to accelerate the realisation of this.”

Singh said that the parties have spoken, for example, of the building out of a regional food hub. 

“So right here in Guyana, we are building out a regional food hub, which will serve the important purpose of aggregating agricultural and agro-processed output for shipping onwards to the Caribbean.

“And I know that Prime Minister [Mia] Mottley (of Barbados) … has also been speaking about what can be done to promote shipping between whether it is agricultural produce from Barbados, onwards to Africa, including agricultural produce that might have come from Guyana and northern Brazil.

“So in this conversation, we’re also including northern Brazil. In fact, Prime Minister Mottley has joined President Ali on at least one, I think, perhaps two visits … that I’m aware of to the the state of Roraima in northern Brazil, exploring opportunities for closer integration between northern Brazil, Guyana, Barbados and onwards to Africa because volumes matter as well. 

“So there are things like seafood, there are things like agricultural produce that we can aggregate, move from northern Brazil, from Guyana to Barbados and onwards to Africa. And the volumes will matter for the feasibility and the viability of a commercial service.”

Singh said that he regards the Afreximbank approach to the transportation problem in collaboration with the region as “very important.

“So, for example, we have had several conversations with the president of the bank, and I know that the president of the bank is fully seized of the importance of the road to Brazil.

“In fact, that was one of the first things that he raised when I had the privilege of meeting him first when he arrived in Guyana, because the road to Brazil is so critical to linking northern Brazil, Guyana and the Caribbean, which has the advantage of building up the volumes and volumes are important for viable trade,” Singh said.

He told reporters that this has historically been one of the challenges for the Caribbean “because we are a se

“And so the introduction of a shipping link where the volumes are severely constrained is what really has been the crux of the problem. So what we’re looking at now is more efficient aggregation for the purposes of more viable trade…

“We had some big investors here over the course of the two days. We had some state officials, we have government officials … not only president, prime ministers. We have the Governor of Lagos…the fifth largest economy in Africa, “ Singh said, adding “so what we want, really, is for private investors to see this opportunity and to take advantage of it.

“And with the growth that is taking place in Guyana, we believe that will happen. For many years, we didn’t have a direct link with Europe. British Airways saw the volume of traffic that is coming to Guyana and they have increased their service to Guyana.

“We are hoping that we had a charter from Ethiopian Airlines. We are hopeful that airlines that are already operating in Africa or potential investors in an airline service, whether scheduled or charter, will see the opportunities and take advantage of them.”

Singh said he also wanted to stress that the authorities in Guyana, “see ourselves as a gateway to the rest of Latin America.

“We see ourselves as the bridge between the Caribbean and Latin America. And, therefore, we see ourselves as potentially a bridge between Africa and Latin America. We are geographically contiguous to Brazil and through Brazil, we therefore have terrestrial access, on land  access to every other economy in South America and Central America.

“And so an investor, an African investor or indeed an investor anywhere else in the world coming to Guyana has the potential to do business not only with Guyana but with Suriname, with French Guyana, and Brazil, and all of the other countries of South America going further south and we are currently working on the road to Brazil and were are working working on a bridge across to the east to Suriname as well,” Singh told reporters.