The Honourable Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director-General Audrey Jardine-Waddell with reporters after today’s press conference.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) of Guyana normally holds a short press conference prior to year end in order to update the corps on developments that have taken place during the course of the current year. This year, the diplomatic and trade agendas are turning out to be rather crowded. The MoFA is therefore taking the opportunity today to say a few words about recent activities of the Ministry in order to avoid the menu for December being too packed to comfortably digest.
Guyana participated in the 20th Meeting of the ACP [African, Caribbean and Pacific Groups of States] Ministerial Trade Committee (MTC) and the 15th Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC) meetings from October 16-20, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. The ACP meetings addressed important matters related to the ACP-EU trade relations, Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs); other pertinent issues arising from the current ACP-EU [European Union] trade arrangements and the ACP Group Declaration for the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) MC11 in Argentina.
One of the more important items discussed and decided at the ACP MTC, was to the ACP Declaration for the upcoming WTO MC11 to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina from December 11-15, 2017. In February 2017, at a Meeting of ACP Ambassadors in Geneva, Guyana was asked to assume the role of Coordinator of the ACP Group in Geneva, to prepare the Group for the aforementioned MC11. The Mission in Geneva therefore coordinated the activities of the ACP including the crafting of the ACP declaration which is the official position of the Group for MC11. The ACP MTC adopted the ACP Declaration as presented by Guyana. Guyana will also serve as Ministerial Spokesperson for the ACP Group at WTO MC11.
In recent months, our usual programme has had to accommodate a plethora of meetings on trade, the consequences of natural disasters in the region, donor conferences and fora on investment. You will have noted that the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) was recently convened and successfully concluded in Georgetown. We were able to have CARICOM [the Caribbean Community] address specific matters of concern to Guyana and Guyana’s industries.
A request by Guyana for suspension to increase the common external tariff (CET) to 40% on Pine Wood and Pine Wood Products for the period 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2019. The recent surge of pine wood imports from extra-regional markets, facilitated by the current low CET rate, has contributed significantly to a reduction in the level of demand of wood products made from local timber. As such, Guyana requested an increase in the CET to 40% to assist in mitigating these effects. There were no objections to the request and therefore it was granted for a period of two years.
The state of CARIFORUM [the Caribbean Forum] Rum Industry was another important factor discussed at COTED. The West Indies Rum and Spirit Producers’ Association (WIRSPA) through Guyana presented a paper on the rum industry and the current challenges it faces. Issues identified included the USA Rum Excise Tax Cover-Over Programme, Brexit, Declining market share in the EU and Standards issues. The COTED adopted a decision to establish a Working Group to be chaired by Guyana to continue the discussions and to make recommendations on bringing relief to the Industry.
That meeting of COTED Ministers followed closely the ACP Ministers of Trade who met in Brussels under Guyana’s chairmanship in late October. Both meetings addressed, in part, preparations for the upcoming Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) to be held under the auspices of the WTO in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Guyana has played a prominent part in the preparations for these meetings both in the region and in the context of the ACP Group of States. Both at the Ministerial level and at the Ambassadorial and technical levels we have been selected to represent the respective regions.
As you are well aware, the Good Offices Process being undertaken with the aid of Ambassador Nylander — the United Nations Secretary-General’s Personal Representative is due to report to the Secretary-General by the end of this month on the state of play and, more specifically, progress regarding the resolution of the controversy arising from the contention by the Government of Venezuela that the 1899 Arbitral Award which has defined our borders with Venezuela since 1905 is null and void. Being aware of the great interest that the media has demonstrated in this matter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tried to aid you in a variety of ways ranging from brief comments to special briefing sessions to provide background information. Not all media houses have taken advantage of the latter opportunities. The consequences of this lack of interest combined with an equal enthusiasm for dramatic headlines have sometimes led to difficulties.
One of the points we have tried to emphasize in all our interfaces with journalists is the need for careful wording and accuracy in reporting on such matters, particularly with regard to the border controversy. This plea has not always been heeded. The Ministry wishes to emphasize that the process is an ongoing one that is not due to come to an end until December 31, 2017. The meetings involving the Personal Representative and the Foreign Ministers have not yet been completed so in interpreting releases the press corps needs to be very careful.
One very persistent and apparently malicious writer without enough conviction to disclose her/his name insists on pointing to the obvious and non-existent decision by the UN not to refer the matter to the ICJ [International Court of Justice]. That is purely speculation but the other point to which that writer or newspaper author insists on returning is the power of the Secretary-General to refer the matter to the ICJ. The fact is that such a referral is mentioned in the Secretary-General’s letter. It is mentioned not as being associated with uncertainty but as an outcome if there is no significant progress in resolving the key issue. It is therefore irresponsible to suggest otherwise, especially when the 1966 Geneva Agreement signed by Venezuela, mandates the Secretary-General to choose a means of settlement from a list which includes the judicial settlement. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be pleased to clarify this aspect further for the Press.
The work pursued by the MoFA abroad is normally undertaken by Ambassadors and Consuls General who are full time employees of the Government of Guyana. Due to financial constraints most countries also utilize Honorary Consuls. The work of these Consulates relate to matters such as visas, and passport processing, assisting Guyanese with interfacing with the host Governments and their agencies such as the police, hospitals, notarising documents, helping stranded Guyanese, among others. It is at times very demanding work and when account is taken of the fact that it is unpaid, can prove to be too much for even the most enthusiastic and nationalistic of persons.
A common phenomenon of Guyanese diaspora is complaints about all consulates, honorary and otherwise, particularly in the United States of America. Whilst not doubting the validity of these concerns, it is also the case that many complainants labour under the misapprehension that this is a lucrative undertaking and therefore there is often some resentment about being excluded. In looking at the two sensational stories carried by one paper today and yesterday, it is clear that some element of confusion and misunderstanding has fed both the headline and the article. The Honorary Consul, for example, has no say in the number of Consulates and their inconvenient placement. Additionally, they are not employees of the state and there is no obligation to adhere to rules about employment. We for example use private business persons or persons in professions in order to minimise or to capitalise on overheads such as office space and clerical staff who can carry out consular work at no additional cost to the firm. Guyana therefore does not have to pay for such services.
Honorary Consuls are for the most part are not paid a salary. An honorarium or stipend is paid towards inconvenience. Whatever name is used the payment is intended to cover the costs incurred in carrying out the work of the Government at the Consulate. Labour therefore is not really paid. This should be taken in account when criticisms are being made.