CARICOM decides on financing, operational model for regional ferry service; Guyana to plough cash into regional agricultural initiative

Last Updated on Friday, 8 April 2022, 22:14 by Denis Chabrol

President Irfaan Ali on Friday announced that the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has decided on the financing and operational model for a regional passenger and cargo ferry service aimed at solving the decades-long sea transportation constraint that has dogged regional agriculture.

Addressing the launch of the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo, he said a Request for Proposals for the regional ferry service would be issued later this month based on an already identified model. “Before May, we are hoping to have the Request for Proposals ready so that we can invite interested parties for the financing, management and operation of a logistics framework to create that sea-bridge within CARICOM itself,” he said.

He later told Demerara Waves Online News that such a sea transportation system was vitally necessary, even as he related that Guyanese businesses have said that containerised shipments have been stuck for a long time at other ports such as Jamaica. “That has a tremendous effect on cost and it can have a negative or positive effect on this agriculture food system so it’s an integral part,” he said.

The absence of a regional ferry service to move large quantities of agricultural produce from major producers such as Guyana, Belize and Suriname to other CARICOM member states has long been identified as a major constraint to the development of a thriving agriculture sector.

The two cargo ships, gifts of the Canadian government, were launched in 1961 not 1963. They were gifts to the West Indies Federation. After the breakup of the Federation in 1962, the federal West Indies Shipping Service became the West Indies Shipping Corporation in 1963 which collapsed in 1992.

Dr Ali also used the opportunity to announce that Guyana and Brazil would be turning the sod in Bridgetown on May 27, 2022 for the Guyana-Barbados food terminal.

The President also announced on Friday that Guyana would be ploughing a large amount of undisclosed funding into the regional agriculture plan whose aim is to reduce CARICOM’s food imports by 25 percent and replace them with those produced in the region by 2025. “As far as our resources would allow us, we are going to provide the financing that is required to help to support the implementation of this strategy because it is key for all of us,” he said.

Expected to participate in the Agri-Expo slated for May 19 to 21, are the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), IDB Invest and four large buying and distributing companies from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are among 20 international, 33 regional, 53 local companies and four global institutions. He said the UAE companies were keen on investing in the production of coffee, sugar and spices. “They put the capital in and they derive the product as the output,” said the Guyanese leader who is responsible for agriculture in CARICOM’s quasi-cabinet.

The President sought to assure attendees that he was convinced that funding was not a problem.

CARICOM Secretary General, Dr Carla Barnett, meanwhile, expressed confidence in Guyana’s commitment to push regional agriculture through the agri expo and investment forum. “The time for bold and decisive action is now. This is the clearest opportunity for the CARICOM region to seize control and chart its own destiny in f0od and nutrition security,” she said.