Panama owes Guyana over $1B for rice shipments

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Rice shipments from Guyana [Ministry of Agriculture photo]
Under the former APNU/AFC Government, a large amount of rice was shipped from Guyana to Panama, however, the past administration failed to collect the payments.

This is according to Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha.

The rice was shipped by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), on behalf of local millers who are required to pay an export commission. But according to Agriculture Minister, some $1.184 billion is owed by Panama for the rice.

“There is also a delay in receipt of payment for rice supplied to Panama which owes millers $1,184,198,400. The entity has a current liability of G$4.7M. Its revenue stream can be adversely affected by the ongoing delay in payments from Panama.”

“My ministry will act immediately to reverse these situations so that these debts can be paid from Panama. We will also meet with the millers to have them work on payments for the millers as soon as possible,” Mustapha said.

GRDB has even been delinquent with collecting the export commissions, with over $350 million outstanding. According to Mustapha, “initial Checks reveal a delay in payments of commission to the Board by Millers. At the end of July, Millers owed $353,925,513.”

The previous A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) government had often touted the healthy amount of rice being produced and the markets it was accessing. For the first crop of 2020, Guyana exported 242,812 tonnes of rice. And for 2019, 1,049,874 tonnes of rice was produced.

The Panama rice market was secured under then Agriculture Minister Leslie Ramsammy back in 2014. But under APNU/AFC, there have been controversies that featured the Panama market. One such controversy was in 2018, when a shipment of rice from Guyana was rejected on arrival in Panama since it did not meet the stipulated specification outlined by that country.

Reports had indicated that the rice was of a substandard quality, prompting the rejection. The ensuing debacle had led to calls for a comprehensive investigation and the resignation of the GRDB board and then Agriculture Minister Noel Holder.