Outrage by Guyanese businesses stems from mistreatment by T&T – CPSO Chairman

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CPSO Chairman and President of Massy Group, Gervase Warner

– says two countries should address differences

Gervase Warner, Chairman of the controversial Caricom Private Sector Organisation (CPSO) – the regional body which has been on the receiving end of outrage by Guyanese citizens and local businesses after expressing concerns with the country’s recently-passed local content law – believes that the situation escalated because of the way Guyanese businesses have been treated by Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) over the years.

Earlier this month, a leaked email came to light detailing concerns of members of CPSO over Guyana’s recently-passed local content law and plans to reach out to the Guyana Government, and ultimately Caricom.

The main contention is that the law, which makes provisions for Guyanese persons and Guyanese businesses to exclusively benefit from the country’s oil and gas sector at specified percentages, violates certain provisions of the Caricom Treaty of Chaguaramas.

The email was signed by Warner, in his capacity as President and Chief Executive Officer of Trinidad-based regional conglomerate, Massy Group, which currently operates business in several sectors in Guyana.

The leaked correspondence had sparked widespread public outrage in Guyana with various Private Sector representatives and stakeholders highlighting the many instances that other Caribbean countries, especially Trinidad and Tobago, violated the regional Treaty with their own local content policies but never faced any ramifications.

However, during a recent interview with the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, Warner said the reaction coming out of Guyana cannot be ignored.

“Honestly, I think it is a big opportunity. It is kind of interesting how this became so acrimonious so quickly,” Warner said to the T&T newspaper.

According to the article, the businessman said with the issues now brought to the surface, there is an opportunity for the business communities in both countries to get together and address their differences.

“I don’t believe you can ever address any issue until it is on the table… I am happy the issue is on the table because that response you can’t step over it you can’t notice it and so I believe that this is a really great opportunity for us to do some healing between T&T and Guyana, T&T business, and Guyanese business,” Warner was quoted to have said.

Warner, the Guardian further reported, believes that there is a lot of history between the Caricom neighbours, hence they need to find ways to work better together.

“This did not happen last week, this is decades, scores of years of stuff building up over time… That had nothing to do with that leaked email that has everything to do with a history of how the Guyanese feel they have been treated by T&T, and T&T business and quite frankly I think it is a great opportunity for us to listen to them and for us to be part of a healing conversation,” the businessman opined in the article.

GCCI President Timothy Tucker

However, Warner’s push for cooperation between the two business communities comes on the heels of several calls being made for Guyana to consider exiting the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). But it was pointed out that T&T also has laws on its books that give preference to its local companies but CPSO has never challenged them. Removing Guyanese local content laws would allow TT to retain its advantage.

In fact, only last weekend, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Timothy Tucker had argued that Guyana has always been short-changed within the regional bloc when it comes to trade.

He highlighted the disparity between Guyana’s exports and imports in the Caribbean, showing that Guyana imports far more than it exports to the region. Tucker noted that these disparities told the story of who are the real beneficiaries of CSME when it comes to trade and who had the most to lose if Guyana were to exit the framework.

“The disparity in reference to the imbalance of trade between Guyana and the Caribbean, it’s something that needs to be noted. The entire Caribbean refers to Guyana as possibly being the breadbasket of the Caribbean, but yet they have numerous amounts of non-tariff barriers preventing us from attaining that goal… Now if we’re going to continue along this road and those countries want to do trade with Guyana, they need to move those barriers and allow Guyana to enter those markets,” the GCCI President had stated.

According to Tucker, the removal of non-tariff barriers, which are trade restrictions put in place by countries to protect their own local industries, would create a level playing field in the region for trade.

Meanwhile, some Private Sector operators in Guyana have raised questions about the CPSO, specifically its composition.

The membership of the CPSO comprises Private Sector entities operating in the Caricom space, including micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). The Organisation had said in a recent statement that it is “the most recently-accredited Associate Institution of the Caribbean Community” and is to act as the “apex” institution for the private sector in Caricom, with a mandate to contribute to the full implementation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy.

While CPSO is chaired by Warner, among its Board of Directors is Guyanese businessman Suresh Beharry, who has since distanced himself from the posture taken by the organisation.

However, several officials from the various major Private Sector bodies in Guyana have indicated that they were not consulted or even aware of the establishment of the regional organisation until the email was leaked.

To this end, one of these bodies, the Guyana Oil and Gas Energy Chamber (GOGEC) has lobbied Caricom to suspend its recognition of CPSO.

GOGEC’s President, Manniram Prashad, led a team to meet with the Secretary-General of Caricom, Dr Carla Barnett, last Thursday to voice concerns.

Following the meeting, Prashad, a former Commerce Minister of Guyana, told this publication, “We’re not attacking Caricom… however, the CPSO appointment is flawed and we’re asking them to correct it. The Secretary-General admitted that not only Guyana, but she’s also gotten complaints from other organisations outside of Guyana.”

“So we asked her to do a couple of things. One, suspend the recognition of CPSO. We also asked to establish a body or committee to look at how this organisation was established. And I’m going to be writing to all the Heads of State… And she accepts that I’ll write all the Heads of State. So, we want them to suspend recognition or organise a forum where we can fix this thing properly. She was very cooperative and I want to congratulate her. She was very professional and we felt very happy with our meeting,” Prashad added.