The conference room at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Friday was packed with entrepreneurs and workers anxious to hear about the investment potential of fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member state Guyana – a promising sign of both countries building win-win relationships that can reap big dividends.
For indeed, business, familial, and social relations between Bridgetown and Georgetown have been robust, though disturbed somewhat by unfortunate damaging public statements traded across waters in the last decade.
Thankfully, we are past the days of “ever so welcome wait for a call” which echoed from Bridgetown amid persistent complaints about a “Guyanese bench” at the Grantley Adams International Airport in the morning and in turn a suggestion that “Barbados was just beyond the imagination of Guyanese.”
In reality, the story on the ground has always been very different, if not far more nuanced.
Barbadians who travelled in droves to the former colonial British Guiana worked hard and made significant contributions to law and order as police officers and to education as teachers, among other professions.
Here in Barbados, Guyanese labour has helped to prop up our sugar cane industry, wider agricultural production and light manufacturing with their unique skills.
So there is already fertile ground for the two countries to explore a deeper economic partnership.
Certainly, it would be foolhardy for any Barbadian worker or entrepreneur with a pulse on regional and global economic developments to shun Guyana’s improving economic fortunes.
Georgetown has always been an astonishingly resource-rich nation whose development has been stymied as successive governments failed to unite the 786, 648-strong diverse population, regarding the country’s vast economic and social development.
But today, Guyana is on the cusp of major transformation.
US oil giant Exxon Mobil has discovered game-changing deposits of oil and gas in the country’s waters that look set to fuel long-term growth and provide a better future for generations to come. The find is estimated to be worth as much as $40 billion, more than ten times the country’s current GDP.
This newly-found wealth is bursting with possibilities beyond the oil and gas sector.
And as signalled by Minister of Foreign Trade Sandra Husbands, Guyana presents one of the best opportunities for not just Barbados but for CARICOM.
Said Husbands: “Guyana’s position is that CARICOM must be present and the Guyanese have welcomed us with open arms.”
Those arms have always been open, but with the exception of business mogul Sir Kyffin Simpson – who pumped substantial funds into Santa Fe Mega Farm, which includes cash crop and the production/rearing of piglets, cows and sheep and cattle – so many other, fellow Barbadians have not taken the risk.
From all reports out of Guyana, Sir Kyffin’s investment has been sound.
And we suspect that there is enough of that success to go around.
As Guyana’s Consul General Cita Pilgrim said: “As production comes on stream next year, the need for good and services will expand exponentially.
“As a country on the move we are very open to investment and you should bear in mind that the level of competition will be stiff.
“So your Government should be commended on its efforts to guide you accordingly.”
Simply put, we need to take the risk or someone else will.
We have already been told that business interests from France, Japan, Canada, China and United States are already exploring the opportunities.
Will Barbadians be left behind?
Now is the time for our business community to pursue Guyanese investment opportunities be it in tourism, food, cultural industries, renewable energy, agriculture or services.