Table from the Bureau of Statistics of Guyana showing the breakdown of imports by country for January to September 2021.

All it took was a misplaced email signature block on a leaked piece of correspondence last week to reveal some deep-seated feelings held by businessmen in Guyana about this country.

The situation started simple enough.

On January 11, Gervase Warner, the chairman of the Caricom Private Sector Organisation (CPSO), issued a “routine internal communication” following an executive meeting where, among other things, Guyana’s new local content law was discussed.

“At the executive committee today, we agreed that the legislation appears to violate several provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. As a result, the CPSO will take on raising these concerns first to the GoG (Government of Guyana) and then ultimately to the Caribbean Community,” Warner’s email stated in part.

While the questioning of Guyana’s local content law was contentious enough by itself, what caused the matter to become even more upsetting to some in Guyana was the fact that Warner’s substantive position as president and Group CEO of Massy as well as the conglomerate’s address in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad had been included in the email.

This led to some strong sentiments expressed by some key business people in Guyana about T&T.

President of the Georgetown Chamber of Industry and Commerce (GCCI) Timothy Tucker said while the inclusion of Warner’s email signature block was unfortunate, they were reliably informed that T&T businessmen were in fact the ones who were the most vocal about objections to the Guyana local content law.

Tucker said this felt like a betrayal especially as some T&T-owned businesses have been operating in Guyana for so long that in the psyche of the Guyanese people they are thought to be local companies.

“They are part of our society, our culture. Our friends and family work with them so it is very unfortunate that we have gone to this route and that is why I think the uproar,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that Mr Warner had to be filling two caps and of course, from a person in the private sector it is an unfortunate thing that the company he works for has to be mixed up with the organisation that circulated the email that was leaked,” Tucker said.

Tucker said T&T and Guyana businesses have always had a good working relationship.

“There are many Guyanese and Trinidadians that are in joint ventures and partnerships and a lot of Trinidadians would have invested here in Guyana. It becomes a very contentious thing now that we have this kind of rift and animosity and it is growing and I want to say from my perspective this is not anything against the Trinidadian people,” Tucker said.

He said it arises out of issues with the policies of the T&T government and now the actions of some members of the private sector.

“It is nothing about the people. I have a lot of close and good friends that are Trinidadians, some living here and some living there, and I have a good working relationship. The GCCI has a large number of Trinidadian companies in its membership including ANSA McAL and Massy, so it is nothing personal but what we are calling for is free trade and the acceptance that we each have to empower and enrich our people first. It is always country first and then regional second, and then international third. It is three tiers to our development,” he said.

The recently passed Guyana local content law lays out 40 different services that oil and gas companies and their subcontractors must procure from Guyanese companies by the end of 2022.

“Guyana is now in the very embryonic stage of the oil and gas discovery. The Guyanese private sector has pushed to make sure we are not spectators to our natural resource development and that we are participants and it is just in a very small way we are participants because it is only 40 service areas that have been ringfenced and the majority, I would say over 80 per cent of the industry, is still wide open for other players,” he said.

One of the issues that Tucker said has been a sore point between T&T and Guyana is the large disparity in trade between the neighbouring countries.

According to the Bureau of Statistics of Guyana, the majority of that country’s imports come from T&T.

Guyana imported US$484 million in goods and services from T&T between January to September last year.

That accounted for almost a quarter of Guyana’s imports for the period.

Conversely, T&T was not even listed among the top ten countries that Guyana exported to for the period.

“There is a massive trade deficit and it is not just because T&T has the largest manufacturing industry in Caricom but because there are a number of non-tariff barriers that do not allow Guyanese manufacturing and of course Guyanese farmers to export freely to T&T,” he said.

Tucker said these non-tariff barriers have affected the export of honey, plantains, pineapples, peppers and ground provisions.

He said at one point the GCCI had a beekeeping project in which 40 people in Guyana were trained in agriculture.

“But export they cannot, why? Because our major transshipment hub (Trinidad) has a law on their books since 1935 that prohibits Honey that isn’t from Trinidad, from coming within close proximity of their shores,” he stated.

Tucker said the GCCI’s objections have been “long, far and numerous.”

“The point of this message is, something as small as Guyanese honey has been blocked from being exported, not just to Trinidad, but to any country that Guyanese have to use Trinidad as a transshipment to get to,” he stated.

Tucker stated that years ago a shipment of honey that was being transshipped by Larparkan was seized and destroyed and Larparkan was fined US$5000.

“Some of the requirements are to de-stem pineapples and pepper and, of course, when we de-stem certain produce their shell life drops extremely fast sometimes within two days,” he said.

He said there is also the problem of the requirement that items must be fumigated with methyl bromide before entry into T&T.

“Methyl bromide is an ozone-depleting substance that both Guyana and T&T and many other countries around the world would have signed on to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to phase out. So requiring Guyana to fumigate its produce with it before entering the country is another non-tariff barrier knowing that we both signed that protocol when there are plenty other fumigants that can be used,” he said.

Tucker said apart from these there are also issues of sanitation and labelling.

“As fast as the Guyanese manufacturing sector reaches one standard it is changed and there is another standard being applied,” he said.

Tucker said this is frustrating especially since Guyana has always been facilitating.

“The protectionisms are there for the market of course but we look at the exports coming in from Trinidad to Guyana and Guyana has been very accommodating and we know so because there was an instance where Guyana applied the full force of its Analyst and Food and Drug department and a lot of products were stopped from coming in from Trinidad and of course our Government intervened and allowed those products to come in. So Guyana has been very accommodating on our side but the accommodation has not been reciprocated on the other side and that is one of the bones of contention,” he said.

Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran put the relationship between T&T and Guyana into context in his Conversation Tree column which was published in September 2018.

“After T&T’s Independence, a new nationalism took hold. This resulted from measures to protect T&T economically, applying what has now become known as local content policies. It became impossible for Guyanese professionals to get jobs in T&T and for Guyanese business people to invest. This was not directed to Guyana alone. Guyanese sensed, rightly or wrongly, that Trinidadians were developing a sense of superiority, generated by T&T’s oil wealth. Many Guyanese began to resent the air of superiority that Trinidadians began to display,” Ramkarran stated.

“Starting from the mid to late 1970s, Guyanese flooded into Trinidad to live and work, mainly illegally, because Guyana’s economy began to contract dramatically. At this time also, numerous Guyanese entered the business of ‘suitcase trading’ and for nearly two decades inundated Piarco Airport on a daily basis seeking airline tickets to Guyana and acceptance of excess baggage by the then BWIA. All Guyanese travelling through Trinidad, whether or not they were traders, were caught up in the extra security measures and the suspicion and hostility of the Trinidad authorities. The hostility of Trinidadians at that time remains an open wound today,” he stated.

During a Parliament Joint Select Committee on Human Rights held in 2019 revealed that of the 716 immigrants deported from the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in 2016, some 127 were from Guyana.