Guatemala, the third largest country in Central America, is looking to build a trading relationship with T&T. Guatemala and T&T started negotiations for a partial scope trade agreement at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in April 2012. Trade Minister Stephen Cadiz said at the start of the negotiations: "Guatemala is an attractive market for T&T products. Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America: 14.3 million people. Its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of an estimated US$5,000 has been increasing annually for the last ten years. The potential to absorb our competitive manufactured products from the food and beverage, agro-processing and light manufacturing sectors."
It is the northernmost of the Central American nations. It is the size of Tennessee in the United States. Its neighbours are Mexico on the north and west, and Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador on the east. In an interview with the Business Guardian last Thursday, Ambassador Guisela Godinez Sazo hailed the growing ties between the two growing economies at the Embassy of Guatemala, Regent Towers, Westmoorings. She hopes this agreement will boost business and trade between the two countries.
"It is a means of bringing about business opportunities for both countries in a bilateral agreement. It began April 11 and in three months, we should be concluding negotiations. The negotiations should be short. So the first round was in T&T and second round will be in Guatemala on May 14," she said. Godinez Sazo said Guatemala, which has had an embassy here for the last 12 years, views T&T as the stepping stone to the Caribbean market. "Guatemala is the most productive country in Latin America because of its economy. T&T is one of the most important countries in the Caribbean and this will bring more opportunities for us. "Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the Central and Latin American region is the most important for this Government in terms of commercial and business opportunities," she said. "Right now, our discussions in negotiations revolve around food products, vegetable products, and other big industries in Guatemala like soaps, cooking oil, sugar. T&T has important products like urea, energy, agriculture.
"Energy co-operation between the two countries is very important. Right now, we import urea, fertiliser, iron and other energy products."
Godinez Sazo said Guatemala exports sugar to T&T. The value of its 2011 sugar exports was US$5,744,883. uatemala's second biggest export to T&T in 2011 was paper, worth US$1,997,348. This was followed by US$1,119,923 worth of salt and sodium chloride. In 2011, Guatemala's biggest imports from T&T were US$8,659,533 worth of iron and blocks.
The second was fertilisers of animal and vegetable origin, amounting to US$1,182,043. The third largest import from T&T was acyclic hydrocarbons worth US$113,300. Guatemala's total exports to T&T in 2011 was US$11,113,108 and the value of its total imports for the same period was US$10,448,411. The balance of trade between the two countries was US$8,721,759. "Right now the balance of trade is in Guatemala's favour. We hope that by these agreements will lead a better balance of trade between the two countries," she said.
Ties that bind
Godinez Sazo spoke about the many trade missions between T&T and Guatemala. "Over the last year, there have been many new businesses between the two countries. Now I am working hard to have trade missions between the two countries. Almost every week, I have a Guatemalan business owner who has interest in doing some sort of business with T&T," she said. This week the Guatemalan Group Kong came to T&T to have talks about setting up a new palm oil plant in T&T. "Kong is one of the most important business groups in Guatemala. It is a company that produces soap and palm oil and they are looking at the possibility of setting up a plant in T&T. They met with Minister of Trade and Minister of Agriculture and a company here that could possibly partner with them, like a joint venture." The T&T Chamber of Commerce led a trade mission to Guatemala in June 2011.
The delegates attended the InduEXPO 2011, the largest manufacturing expo in Central America, hosted by the Chamber of Industry of Guatemala.
The trade mission focused on:
• food and beverage
• construction and building
• real estate
"About 25 companies from T&T went to Guatemala to explore different business opportunities," Guatemala. She said there will also be Guatemalan companies at the Trade and Investment Convention (TIC) in May. "I think maybe four to six companies will be there. These will be from the agriculture and food industries." Guatemala sees T&T as a strong business and trade partner because of the strength of T&T's economy and industry. "T&T has the strongest industries and the best financial sector in the Caribbean region. Now it is the hub of the entire region. We also want Guatemala as the hub of the Central American region. We are the biggest economy of the Central American region," Godinez Sazo said. Just two weeks ago, T&T Agri-Business Association, businessman Arthur Lok Jack, and First Citizens were part of a T&T trade delegation to attend a series of "Invest in Guatemala" meetings. The agency Invest In Guatemala was set up in in 1997 to promote business and trade to countries interested in investing there.
Travel and tourism
Godinez Sazo spoke about an agreement on tourism and culture that would enhance travel between Guatemala and T&T. "We have to get the very important attractive packages that would encourage travel between the two countries. Culture between the two countries is very important. We are working on an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism. It is a new tourist and culture agreement. Maybe it would be signed next month in Guatemala." She cited the example of Lok Jack exploring the opportunity of having students from the Arthur Lok Jack GSB do Spanish immersion programmes in Guatemala. "There are many ways in which the countries can work together," Godinez Sazo said.