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Guatemala anxious to do business with T&T
GUATEMALA CITY—A high-level, 21-member trade mission from T&T—which is in Guatemala to attend a business expo similar to the Trade and Investment Convention held last week at the Hyatt Regency Hotel—has been told that the Central American nation is ready now to sign a trade agreement with T&T.
The trade mission is led by Trade and Industry Minister, Stephen Cadiz, and includes the presidents of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Andrew Sabga and the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association. Also in Guatemala are Sandra Honore, T&T’s Ambassador to Costa Rica who is accredited to Guatemala, Catherine Kumar, the chief executive of the Chamber, Natasha Mustapha-Scott, the chief executive of the TTMA and representatives from 11 companies who are interested in doing business in Guatemala.
Members of the mission attended a hectic round of meetings in Guatemala City on Tuesday, which included a courtesy call on the Guatemalan President, Alvaro Colom Caballero, a working meeting at the Ministry of the Economy and the Guatemalan Exporters Association. After welcoming the delegation from T&T, Guatemala’s Economy Minister, Luis Velasquez, in a face-to-face discussion with T&T’s Trade Minister, underlined the importance of integrating the economies of Central America and Caricom. He noted the disparity between his country’s GDP per capita (which on a purchasing power parity basis is about US$4,900) and that of T&T (which is about US$20,000) and said T&T had the potential to be a good market for Guatemalan exporters.
Velasquez said Guatemala was already a member of DR-CAFTA, the trade agreement between the Dominican Republic and the nations of Central America and the United States. He said Guatemala was also negotiating partial scope agreements with the European Union and a free trade agreement with Peru and was looking to develop similar trading links with South Korea and Chile. Velasquez said that in Guatemala there were opportunities for investment in the country’s power generation and distribution sectors for which the Guatemalan government had a US$12 billion development plan. He also said there were opportunities for investment in Guatemala’s tourism products. But he was clearly in a hurry to get some commitment from Cadiz, saying “We wish to ratify our interest in having a free trade agreement or a partial-scope agreement with T&T,” said Velasquez, adding that he was empowered to sign a partial scope agreement on behalf of his government and hoped to conclude the negotiations and sign the agreement in six months.
“I have already discussed this with the private sector and with the President and we are ready to go.”
He also said Guatemala was ready to do a partial-scope agreement with T&T and looked at the possibility of the negotiation of a full free trade agreement between Central America and Caricom as the “second phase.” Responding to Velasquez, Cadiz said: “My preference would be to say yes, but we are the lead negotiator for the Canada/Caricom agreement and we would like to see the back of that agreement before we enter into new negotiations.” Cadiz also said the talks with Guatemala should have a Central American framework. “We entered into negotiations for a free trade agreement with Panama. That agreement has to go to Caricom. Depending on the reaction of Caricom, we will know how to proceed with other Latin American nations.
“I know you are trying to get a date and we are committed to establishing a timeframe for negotiating a partial-scope agreement between our countries.” In the discussion that followed, TTMA president, Dominic Hadeed, said he had been working with Guatemala and had established a joint venture arrangement with a big Guatemalan company called CapCorp, which has led to his involvement with the distribution of Pepsi in T&T. Hadeed, who is the owner of Blue Waters and who distributes high-end liquors in the T&T market, said: “We need to move from blocking trade to establishing trade blocks.” Speaking on behalf of the Chamber, Andrew Sabga said: “It would be very attractive for us to have access to Guatemala as a result of the agricultural production and the raw material inputs. Director of trade in the Ministry of Trade, Norris Herbert, said there was a willingness to negotiate a trade agreement with Guatemala “but the constraint is the timing and the resources. We need to get Panama out of the way.”
Eventually, both sides agreed that the negotiations for a trade agreement between the countries would begin in the first quarter of 2012, but that they would engage in an exchange of ideas every month to keep each other updated on the progress of the relationship. Guatemala has been successful in diversifying its economy away from its traditional exports, which are coffee, bananas and sugar. At the meeting with the Guatemalan Exporters’ Association the T&T delegation was told that in 1986, about 25 per cent of the country’s exports came from non-traditional sources and Guatemala exported about US$1 billion worth of goods. In 2010, the share of non-traditional exports had jumped to 75 per cent of total exports, which amounted to US$8.6 billion. Among Guatemala’s non-traditional exports are fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicraft, shrimp and fish.
The Guatemalan Ambassador in T&T, Guisela Atalida Godinez Sazo, and the Guatemalan-born secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States, Luis Fernando Andrade Falla, were both instrumental in making the arrangements for the visit of the delegation to Guatemala. Guatemala has an estimated population size of 14 million people.
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