Guyana is a country of 83,000 square miles just about the size of the State of Idaho and it is located on the north-east shoulder of South America. The population is just about 750,000, and is made up of the descendants of people of Africa, India, China, Europe and the original Amerindian people. Roughly 90 percent of our people live along a narrow coastal strip of rich agricultural land bordering the Atlantic ocean. Almost 80 percent of our interior territory is covered with rich tropical rain forests and mountains, and it is in these areas are located scattered villages of Amerindians who make up roughly 5 percent of our people. This interior is highly underdeveloped and communication is very difficult due to an almost absence of roads. However, in recent times, foreign firms have been granted lucrative mining and lumber concessions in that area which is extremely rich in natural resources.

Guyana's economy depends mainly on agriculture and mining. Sugar and rice account for over half of our export earnings. Bauxite production, even though it has declined over the past twenty years, also plays an important role in the economy. Of late, gold production has been on the upward surge, and furniture using domestic hardwoods, lumber, tropical fruits and vegetables and also fish and shrimp have been finding more and more markets in the Caribbean and North America. The country's unspoiled tropical rain forests and magnificent rivers and waterfalls have boosted eco-tourism, and the tourism sector, while still small, is growing day by day.


What are the economic trends in Guyana? During 1994, the real GDP grew by 8 percent, the highest recorded growth performance in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the fifth consecutive year that the economy has achieved growth in excess of 6 percent. This admirable performance was the result of the continued improvement in the macroeconomic environment and the progress made in the restoration of the infrastructure and the productive capacities of key industries in the economy. This was particularly evident in the gold, forestry and rice industries and in the construction sector where substantial investments enabled expansion in output and exports. A growth rate of 6.3 percent is targeted for 1995. The latest figures revealed for the first quarter of this year show that the economic growth rate has reached 6.5 percent, and has actually surpassed the set target.

The 7.7 percent rate of inflation in 1993 was below the 9 percent target and almost one half of the level recorded in 1992. An inflation rate of 8 percent was initially projected for 1994, but this reached four points higher due to the relatively substantial increases in wages that the Government granted to state workers. Pressure on the Guyana dollar in relation to its exchange rate with the US dollar also played a role in this. The inflation rate for 1995 is projected to remain at between 12 to 13 percent. Preliminary figures for the first quarter of this year show that the inflation rate has been pegged at 1.2 percent, which is a reduction over the same period last year.

The increase in the gross international reserves was more than four times the target of 13 million dollars in 1993. A recent report in late 1994 by the IMF shows that it has now surpassed the 250 million dollars mark, valued at over 9 months worth of imports.

The external debt stands at $2.2 billion at the present time. This debt burden is extremely stifling since between 75 to 80 percent of revenues have to be expended annually to service it. As can be imagined, very little resources are left to be used for national development.

Wages and salaries for public sector employees were 30 percent higher in 1993 than at the end of 1992. Increases were given in 1994, and for 1995, workers in the public sector will obtain an increase of 16 percent.

The multilateral financial agencies and our bilateral donors are satisfied with Guyana's progress and at a meeting organized by the World Bank in January 1993 in Guyana, they pledged to raise over $320 million to support developmental projects up to 1996.


Such is the confidence that Guyana has generated ever since democratic elections the first free and fair elections in a quarter of a century were held in October 1992. As is widely known, the Carter Center, and President Carter himself, played a leading role in the observation of the election which brought back Guyana into the fold of democratic nations of the world. Guyana improved the democratic process on August 8, 1994 when local government elections for municipalities and rural councils were held for the first time in 20 years. These elections, too, were totally free and fair, and were witnessed by both local and international observers. Democracy is back in action in Guyana and the future holds many positive prospects for the Guyanese people.

The political culture has improved dramatically over the past two years. There is regular consultation between the Government and the Opposition, and the radio, television and the press are open to all political views. Of course, political opinions differ sharply on some issues, but this is expected in any political culture. But the positive aspect of these differences, is that the political parties meet to consult and discuss these views in peace and harmony.


In February of this year the Guyana Government mounted an international trade fair known as GUYEXPO 95 which saw over 120 exhibitors displaying their products to thousands of people for over a week. The exhibits represented a wide range of sectors including mining, forestry, furniture manufacturing, jewelry fashioning, plastics, tourism, craft and ceramics, among others. Buyers from a number of regional and extra-regional countries including the Caribbean, Spain, Britain, Canada and the USA were present to negotiate purchases. As a result, firms from Britain and Jamaica signed investment contracts to enter into business enterprises in Guyana.

GUYEXPO 95 bore adequate testimony to the fact that Guyana is now becoming a fertile ground for investors, both domestic and foreign. All investors in the USA and elsewhere are invited to join in exploring the trade and investment opportunities now available in Guyana.

Late last year, an industrial estate some twelve miles east of the capital, Georgetown was put into operation. New factories and other manufacturing concerns are being established there. Because of the demand for space by more entrepreneurs at this location, the Government has identified other areas for the establishment of industrial centers.


In Guyana today there is the forging of a definite relationship between the business community and the Government, both of whom, along with Guyanese workers, seek to improve the living conditions of the people.

At present, too, the Government is in the process of creating an environment to honor its commitment of having the private sector as the main engine of growth. It has liberalized the licensing regime, and has created a free market in foreign currency; price controls and subsidies have been removed, the Government is working along with the World Bank to standardize future investment incentives; the labor market is competitive and there is a stable political climate. In September 1994, the Government of Guyana, to facilitate the foreign investors, established an investment unit, the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-INVEST). This body, which is a "one-stop shop", advises the foreign investors on business opportunities, answers queries, and facilitates the setting up of enterprises.

Guyana warmly welcomes all domestic and foreign investments which seek to increase exports and foreign exchange earnings. These will which intensify the utilization of existing facilities in transferring modern technology and technical skills to develop the country's human and natural resources.

The private sector is expressing growing confidence in the investment policy of the Government. In the past six months, two private commercial banks have been established, and the local private sector has already earmarked over US$100 million for investment this year.

While the Guyana Government actively encourages investment in the country, it recognizes that the requirements of infrastructure must be met, and continuously strives, in conjunction with international financial institutions, to upgrade the roads, water and power supplies which are needed. At present, projects to upgrade these areas of infrastructure are already on stream.

Telecommunications services, which have been privatized, have expanded over recent years, and they continue to improve. Seaport and Airport facilities are also currently being upgraded.


The Government of Guyana is actively encouraging businesses which are geared particularly toward the export market to take advantage of the preferential trade arrangements of which it is a beneficiary.

As a Caribbean Basin Initiative country, as a CARIBCAN beneficiary (CARIBCAN is a CARICOM-Canada agreement which provides preferential treatment for certain products from CARICOM exported to Canada), and as an ACP signatory of the Lome Convention, Guyana enjoys duty-free access to the US, Canadian and European Community markets for a wide range of commodities produced in our country.

Under an agreement between Guyana and Venezuela, and a multilateral agreement between Venezuela and CARICOM, Guyana has a special relationship with neighboring Venezuela in the areas of trade and investment.

These arrangements can provide excellent opportunities for investors in Guyana.


The Government of Guyana is intent on its policy of privatization of a number of State-owned companies. The entire process will be completely transparent, and unlike what occurred under the previous regime, all privatization deals would be made public and would have to be first approved by our Parliament. Foreign investors are invited to examine Guyana's privatization proposals and be part of the process, either as independent purchasers or as partners with the local private sector.

Guyana has vast quantities of land which can be used for agricultural and industrial purposes, and the plans for the establishment of several new industrial and agricultural estates are currently in process.


The country's development and investment thrust is also focused on the policy of sustainable development of its natural resources. Guyana recognizes that greater use of its natural resources could serve to generate increased foreign exchange earnings and assist in greater real growth in the economy. As a consequence, the establishment of industries which exploit and develop our natural resources is particularly encouraged. It must be emphasized, however, that exploitation of Guyana's natural resources should be done in accordance with principles of sustainability so as to provide guaranteed access to these resources and, at the same time, maximum protection of the environment. It must be done in accordance with the Environment Action Plan which was recently approved by the Guyana Parliament.

The Guyana Government is intent on protecting the environment and is concerned about the depletion of the world's environmental resources. It is taking positive steps to halt this decline. Within the framework of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Guyana has made a signal contribution with the Iwokrama Project to the pursuit of sustainable development, by allocating 900,000 acres of pristine rain forest for an international experiment in sustainable tropical rain forestry. But what must be borne in mind is that Guyana is a poor country saddled with an enormous foreign debt. Efforts are now being made to encourage debt for nature swaps that is, Guyana prevents exploitation of areas of our rain forest and makes them available for international scientific studies; at the same time Guyana requests debt forgiveness from its bilateral and multilateral donors for making its forests available to the benefit of the world. If Guyana's creditors write off one dollar for every tree that is protected in its forest, the foreign debt problem will be greatly alleviated, and increased proportions of the nation's revenues will be catapulted into the areas of productive development.


Most of Guyana's original inhabitants, the Amerindians, live in the areas where the rain forests predominate. Projects to develop mining and lumber concessions in these areas must not negatively affect the lives of these people; instead the Government feels that the Amerindians must be made to benefit from the rich resources that these areas offer to the world. Their social and economic welfare must be of paramount importance to the business interests that operate in those areas. The Amerindians themselves must also play a direct role in planning for the sustainable development of the resources of these areas.

It should be mentioned, too, that some of the environment groups outside of Guyana have taken on the mantle as "protectors" of the Amerindian people of Guyana even without first consulting with them to find out if they want such so-called protection. Some of these groups want no economic activity in the rain forest areas and they lobby for the withdrawal of funding by international agencies for economic and social projects designed for the development of these areas. The Guyana Government wants the Amerindian people to assume their rightful place in the Guyanese society as leaders of economic and social projects, not only in places where they live, but in other parts of Guyana as well.

The Government is currently expanding education and health care for the Amerindians. However, some of the so-called protectors of the Amerindians seem to want them to remain in abject poverty, as primitive people of the rain forests who must remain in seclusion and backwardness while the rest of the world rush forward to grasp opportunities for social and economic advancement. The Guyana Government does not agree with the position of these interest groups that want the Amerindians to continue to live in primitive conditions, and it will utilize all resources to bring them into the mainstream of Guyanese society and to enjoy all the benefits that the same society can give to them. Foreign investors are asked to assist in the social and economic development of the Amerindians of Guyana.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a coordinated campaign by a number of environmental groups aimed at maintaining intact the Amazon rain forest, while at the same time paying almost no attention to the developmental needs, including job creation, of the countries concerned. While it is agreed that the rain forest must be preserved as part of the resource heritage of all Guyanese and for its role as a determinant in global climate, there are two aspects which must be noted.

First, the powerful environment lobby does not bring to bear similar considerations in respect of the temperate forests which still produce 90 percent of the world's timber products. As a matter of fact, at a UN conference on forests in 1994, the developed countries while insisting on certain stringent criteria for the management of tropical forests, refused to accept a similar regime for their own forests. Second, there is a growing feeling, not only in Guyana, but also in other countries with rain forests, that the industrial North is trying to assign total responsibility for global climate to the developing world while refusing to change its own climate-disturbing lifestyles.


Foreign investors are urged to seek out the business opportunities that are now multiplying in Guyana and to participate in them for the mutual benefit of both themselves and the Guyanese people. Guyana needs as much help and support as possible to keep its economy moving. It has set out on a voyage of development with high expectation, hoping to bring as many benefits as possible for our people. By pooling the people's ideas and developing industries based on our natural resources, this expectation can be realized in due course. The Guyanese people look forward with great optimism to see what the end of this voyage will bring.

April 10, 1995

The author, Dr. Odeen Ishmael is the Ambassador of Guyana to the United States of America. He is also Guyana's Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States.

Source: Embassy of Guyana, Washington D.C.