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Guyana in the Hemisphere: Past, Present and Future

HOM's Official Photo-Giles(by Dr. Nicole Giles, High Commissioner of Canada to Guyana, Ambassador of Canada to Suriname and Canada’s Representative Plenipotentiary to CARICOM)

The Co-operative Republic of Guyana is strategically located on the shoulder of South America. While it faces the Caribbean, Guyana is increasingly connecting with its South American neighbours.

Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America. Guyana has a shared history with the Caribbean, and shared cultural ties. To a large extent, this has moulded Guyana’s political and economic landscape. Guyana is also the only South American member of the Commonwealth, and has strong parliamentary traditions. Economically, Guyana has been largely oriented towards the Caribbean, Europe and North America. This has been reinforced by the large Caribbean – including Guyanese – diaspora that has made important contributions to Canada and the United States.

Guyana is a fast growing economy rich in natural resources, biodiversity, and virgin forests that cover an estimated 75 percent of the country. The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) has projected a 4.5 per cent growth rate for Guyana in 2014. This outstrips anticipated economic growth in most other economies in the hemisphere. Guyana’s economic growth has been largely driven by the extractive and agriculture sectors. Building on this, Guyana has been moving towards establishing partnerships that can augment and introduce new technologies into its principle sectors to ensure viability and competitiveness. Guyana Goldfield’s is building a world-class gold mine at Aurora, using cutting-edge technologies. In the agriculture sector, the Government of Guyana has begun the introduction of bio-fertiliser into the rice and sugar sectors to combat pests and reduce the impact of fertilizers on the environment. The farmers’ use of this technology will increase productivity levels which will result in greater yields.

Guyana has demonstrated considerable enthusiasm in embracing the possibilities of regionalisation from not only the Caribbean, but also the Latin American perspectives. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has played an important role in the development of all its Member States, recognising that they have stronger voices when united in the pursuit of coordinated foreign and economic policies and development priorities, such as improving standards of living and work.

There has been a proliferation of political and trade blocs, contributing to the alphabet soup of acronyms that litter international diplomacy: the Union of South America Nations (UNASUR), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). The appeal of playing an active role within regional organizations is obvious: UNASUR has an estimated population (and customer base) of over 300 million people, which represents 65 percent of the Latin American population, versus CARICOM’s estimated 15 million.

Regionalisation has been challenged by the dilemma of conceding power for the common regional good and maintaining sovereignty. With the growing number of regional blocs, countries have to revisit this notion and answer the following question: how much sovereignty can be conceded to each grouping while still retaining an independent national identity and protecting national interests? Finding an answer to this conundrum can be quite demanding for smaller states, especially those participating in large political and trading blocs.

The emergence of these regional groupings has shaken the Latin American and the Caribbean snow globe, which has yet to fully settle. To varying degrees, these groupings are searching for common solutions to common problems. This is laudable, but challenges arise when the common interests of one sub-regional group clashes with another. For this reason, Canada believes that the Organisation of American States (OAS) remains the premier multilateral forum of the hemisphere.

For the smaller and largely trade dependent economies of the Caribbean, regional integration is instrumental in gaining competitiveness globally. Caribbean integration will help the region to function with increased cohesion, and reshape its regional identity to respond effectively and efficiently to newly emerging needs both at a regional and international level.  For example, Guyana’s population is under 750,000 whereas CARICOM’s is approximately 15 million people. John Donne famously wrote that “no man is an island.” While many countries in the Caribbean are indeed islands, the metaphor still holds important lessons. In an increasingly globalised and competitive world, it is simply impossible for countries to remain isolated from others. Integration is pivotal to sustainable economic development, especially for smaller countries. It is for this reason that a fundamental objective for Canada’s Caribbean Regional Program is supporting the integration of CARICOM Member States. Simply put, the Caribbean is stronger together.

Canada also believes that the hemisphere is stronger together. Prime Minister Harper first made the Americas a foreign policy priority in 2007 with the vision of a more prosperous, secure and democratic hemisphere. Seven years on, Canada’s whole-of-government engagement in the hemisphere has never been stronger, and we have invested over $4 billion in total international assistance since 2007. Canada’s Strategy for Engagement in the Americas has three primary goals: increase Canadian and hemispheric economic opportunity; address insecurity and advance freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law; and fostering lasting relationships. Canada is a trusted investor, a reliable supporter of local solutions, and a dynamic partner for study, research, business, innovations and sustainable economic growth:

  • We are promoting freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law by strengthening the professionalism and accountability of public institutions.
  • We are addressing pressing challenges for vulnerable groups in the Americas through assistance in areas such as food security, maternal and child health, child and youth protection, and access to quality education and skills training.
  • We are deepening cooperation to strengthen security in the Americas and to safeguard Canada and Canadians at home and abroad.
  • We are increasing opportunities for mutually beneficial transactions between Canada and the rest of the Americas in order to generate inclusive and sustainable economic growth (Canada was the largest sources of Foreign Direct Investment into Guyana in 2013).
  • We are working with Guyana’s government and Canada’s natural resources industries to transform the hemisphere’s natural resources wealth to inclusive and sustainable development, through strong Corporate Social Responsibility.

Canada remains committed to the Americas and are working with its partners – including the OAS and CARICOM – to achieve these goals. These goals can only become a reality by working together as a region.

Looking to 2015 and beyond, Guyana’s challenge will be opening itself up to new and diversified markets and opportunities, while maintaining a focus on core markets and traditional partners such as Canada. Guyana is a big country in CARICOM, but a small country in UNASUR. Taking full advantage of Guyana’s geopolitical location will involve identifying core priorities for Guyana’s development. It will also require making difficult long, medium and short term policy decisions to put Guyana in the best possible place to pursue them. This is no easy task, and I wish Guyana all the very best in this pursuit.

Dr. Nicole Giles (BA Honours [Political Science and History], Queen’s University, 1998; MPhil. [International Relations], University of Oxford, 2001: DPhil. [International Relations], University of Oxford, 2005 worked as a Retained Lecturer at the University of Oxford prior to joining the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2005.  Dr. Giles worked as Deputy Director for the Nuclear and Radiological Security Division and as Director for Nuclear Security, Submarines and Policy Division. She has also published on missile defence and nuclear strategy. Dr. Giles’ most recent position was a Director for The Counter-Terrorism and Anti-Crime Capacity building Programs Division.
In 2013, Dr. Giles was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in recognition of her contributions to Canada.

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