Representatives from the Virgin Islands private sector joined leaders including Deputy Premier Lorna Smith, Junior Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Dr. Karl Dawson, and BVI Finance CEO Elise Donovan in traveling to Guyana this month to discuss greater collaboration in trade between the two jurisdictions.
Ms. Smith — who is also the minister of financial services, labour and trade — and Dr. Dawson headed a press conference on Tuesday about the “BVI Trade Mission to Guyana,” shedding light on possible development opportunities the government is considering.
High among the areas to explore are facilitating easier and more affordable shipping from Guyana, Ms. Smith said. She added that discussions with Guyana leaders including President Irfaan Ali, Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jugdeo, Prime Minister Mark Philips and others proved productive. She also noted how the country’s economy has exploded since its offshore oil production began to soar in recent years.
“Guyana’s economic growth is clearly significant, and we were very impressed with the government’s focus on using its oil and gas resources to develop a sustainable economy,” Ms. Smith said. “From the meetings we held, I believe there are many lessons we can share.”
The deputy premier said delegation members explored investment opportunities and other topics.
Though the jurisdictions differ significantly in size, topography and other factors, she noted that the VI and Guyana have a strong connection, with Guyanese people forming the third largest group of expatriates and a significant part of the workforce in the territory.
Post-trip, the government is considering lifting visa restrictions for Guyanese immigrants, according to the deputy premier. Ms. Smith declined to speculate on a timeline for taking this step, but said a decision would be made “soon.”
She claimed that very few people who apply for a visa are denied and said the process of applying for a work permit should sufficiently verify an applicant’s ability to live and work in the territory.
Leaders said they also hope to promote cross-border collaboration in various ways, including through an offer by a VI private-sector member to fund a scholarship to the Guyanese School of Agriculture.
Just over a dozen private-sector representatives paid their way to join VI government leaders on the trade mission, and Ms. Smith said several plan to soon return to Guyana to make use of new business opportunities.
Dr. Dawson described his discussions with Guyanese about other forms of development, particularly in agriculture.
He noted that the territory is currently limited by its water woes, but he expressed optimism that a one-year Recovery and Development Agency-headed project scheduled to soon go to tender will significantly improve the situation.
In the meantime, he said VI leaders learned valuable information about aquaponics, shade houses and other methods that could help the VI become more self-sufficient in the production of leafy greens and other vegetables.
He also acknowledged that efforts to expand fishing operations would need to be balanced with sustainable practices.
‘Mutually beneficial’ collaboration
Ms. Smith said she looks forward to greater collaboration coming out of the trade mission in many sectors.
“Given these opportunities and the enthusiasm with which we were received, I believe that we will be looking at how best to establish a more permanent presence in Guyana that would be mutually beneficial,” she said.