Minister of Business Keynote address at the 7th CAIPA Annual General Assembly Conference 2015



caipa 2

First, let me extend, on behalf of the Government of Guyana, a warm welcome to the representatives of the  Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies who have travelled to Guyana to attend this meeting, and also to those of the partner organizations which are represented here today, namely the Caricom Secretariat, Caribbean Export, UNCTAD, the Inter-American Development Bank.

I have said on more than one occasion in the early days of my appointment as Minister of Business that one of our Government’s goals is for GO-Invest to become the Region’s best performing Investment Promotion Agency by the year 2020. I have since had the opportunity to become more acquainted with the work and performances of some of the our regional IPAs and, as I stand here at this CAIPA forum, I think it might be a good thing for me to admit that what I was contemplating is perhaps a bit ambitious.

Notwithstanding my aspirations for GO-Invest, I am of the firm view that it is through our regional strategies and efforts that we will achieve our greatest increases in Foreign Direct Investment into our individual economies. We are small countries with small economies, small budgets and small populations and if we are to prosper rather than simply survive, we need to promote ourselves as a single economic space with a diversified portfolio of opportunities rather than as separate, individual jurisdictions each with its own small voice.

And so today we are gathered here for the CAIPA Annual General Assembly Conference under the theme “Strengthening our Investment Promotion Platforms” essential to deal with the business of increasing our share of the global investment pie perhaps from a sliver to a real slice.

For us in Guyana it is both an honour and a privilege to be hosting this year’s meeting and it is my hope that your deliberations over the next two days and the decisions you take will contribute to a sustained long-term effort to bring about the increases in FDI that our Region requires for its economic development.

Guyana, through GO-Invest has benefited from its membership in CAIPA through training in areas such as Marketing for Investment Promotion Professionals; Investor Facilitation; and Investor Aftercare & Monitoring; as well as by attending Regional Stakeholder Conferences.

Guyana intends to participate more meaningfully in the work of CAIPA going forward because we see potential in a regional approach to overcoming many of the challenges that we face as individual small economies competing for investment capital in a highly competitive global environment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Each one of our countries has attractive investment opportunities that can provide attractive returns on investments.

Guyana has ten regions, each with its own opportunities for doing business. We would like to be able to promote these within the framework of a regional investment promotion strategy that can link us to the global investment community under a recognized regional or Caribbean brand.

This year’s AGM will further consolidate the efforts of CAIPA to re-brand our region as a good place for doing business. Guyana is keen to play a full and meaningful role in the work of this important regional body, and will do so through GO-Invest.

I am a newcomer to the business of investment promotion agencies and therefore do not have the experience that many of you might have. However, when I read the agenda for this AGM and saw references to the CAIPA strategic plan, FDI accounting software, Digital promotional campaign for CAIPA, I knew that this meeting has all the main ingredients for a productive two days of discussions and decision-making.

As you elect your officers and develop your work plan for the upcoming year I know that there are many common challenges that we in our respective countries face when it comes to attracting foreign investments into our economies. A project here and a project, there are not going to transform our region into the buzzing business hub that we need it to be in order to provide the opportunities that our people will need on a sustained and sustainable basis in the decades ahead.

The theme – Strengthening our Investment promotion Platforms is not only relevant, but is an imperative if we are going to rely on our IPAs to secure the capital inflows required to drive our economy and build our nation.

I’d like to use Guyana as an example. The level of Foreign Direct Investment in Guyana each year is not necessarily attributable to the work of GO-Invest. A certain amount of foreign investment will wind up in our economy regardless of what our IPAs do or do not do. And while it is important that we understand what attracts these investments, it is perhaps even more important for us to be aware of the investments that are not coming our way so that we can identify opportunities for diversification that require interventions.

Here in Guyana, the goal of economic diversification has eluded us for decades and achieving this goal will be one of our greatest challenges as a Government. Nevertheless, we must find ways to promote those sectors which have traditionally not attracted much investment. I’m speaking here about sectors that we know have potential such as agro-processing, wood products, light manufacturing, ICT, film industry, jewellery industry, garment industry. What is it that makes these successful industries in other parts of the world but not in Guyana? What are some of the obstacles to having these industries operating successfully in our economy? And how do we dismantle these obstacles so that we can attract the investments needed to develop these sectors.

If there are deficiencies in our policies and legislation that limit the ability of investors to enjoy healthy returns on their investments in certain sectors than they need to be identified and steps taken to correct them. Policy advocacy is one of the roles of GO-Invest and this role has become an important and relevant role in the realm of developing a viable and sustainable value-added sector.

Available data suggest that over the last decade, Guyana was able to enjoy a relatively high ratio of FDI to GDP – around 10% – without the benefit of a well-developed and diversified economy. So we clearly need to be careful about the type of data and information that we use to assess our country’s economic well-being. We also need to utilize standard methodologies when it comes to assessing the performance of GO-Invest.

So as far as Guyana is concerned, we are currently paying the price for not diversifying away from our dependence on primary products because demand for most of our export commodities has eased and this is now adversely impacting our economy and exposing our vulnerability.

And so for us it is important to know that there are initiatives dedicated to raising the profile of the Caribbean in the international business arena. The development of the Regional Investment Promotion Strategy (RIPS) is particularly noteworthy in this regard and I wish to commend the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) for driving this initiative.

The sectors chosen for investor targeting under the Proactive Promotion component of the strategy, namely Alternative Energy; Business Processing Outsourcing and Information, Communication and Technology; and the niche Tourism and Health and Wellness sectors, are those identified with the help an investor perception survey carried out on behalf of Caribbean Export and therefore we expect these sectors to be the ones through which we IPAs can make the greatest impact on our economies.

The targeting of Impact Investors for what is referred to as the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) type  projects, as well as the targeting of  the Caribbean Diaspora as a source of investment and as a means of disseminating information to prospective investors will certainly bear fruit if implemented within the context of a proactive promotion programme.

The regional investment climate component of the strategy has several elements that address areas in which we have continuously frustrated businesses, and which are now making us a less attractive option for investors than jurisdictions which have long ago dealt with these matters.

I’m referring specifically to customs harmonization and automation systems; regional unification of Visa Regime with a focus on business visas; road map for the identification of bottlenecks and streamlining procedures in land registration/transfer; a strategy for the launch and use of alternative energies; and a program for the development and strengthening of workforce productive skills and capacities based on investors’ needs.

So I am encouraged by this strategy (RIPS) because there is tremendous value in tackling common problems through common solutions. In fact the only thing worse than us continuing to leave some of these matters unaddressed would be for us to tackle them haphazardly so RIPS is definitely timely and we  welcome the initiative.

In conclusion, I believe it is to our advantage that we continue to increase co-operation between regional IPA’s, sharing experiences and information that can enhance the regional knowledge base on investment promotion.

I hope that this cooperation will manifest itself during your meetings here in Guyana in the form of a renewed enthusiasm and a sharper focus on what we as a region need to do in order to successfully promote our region as one that is ready to do serious business and one where serious business can be done. I wish you a fruitful two days in Guyana and I thank you for your attention.