We are concerned
MEMBERS of Jamaica’s private sector say they are getting increasingly concerned that the border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela could soon start having an impact on companies that are either already doing business in Guyana or those which are only in the planning stages of going after opportunities in that market.
Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali spent much of last week reassuring companies operating in the disputed Essequibo region — an area larger than Greece — and in offshore areas closer to Venezuela, that their “investments are safe”, after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said they should “leave in the next three months”. US oil major Exxon Mobil, which operates its largest foreign oil project offshore Guyana, indicated that it will continue to do what it has “been contracted to do” in terms of producing oil, and has largely ignored the order.
But businessmen based in Jamaica say they are worried.
“We are concerned for more than one reason,” Metry Seaga, the president of Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) told the Jamaica Observer on Friday, adding that the view came from informal talks with members of the private sector. “People who are doing business down there now, or in the process of doing business…we are very concerned when there are threats of physical attack against a country by another country — and moreso when it’s in our region. So, it’s of very big concern to us and we are watching it closely, hoping and praying that it doesn’t come to that, and that good sense will prevail and that nothing of the sort will happen,” Seaga continued. He said any escalation in tensions “could have significant effect on those who are doing or planning to do business [in Guyana].”
He said his company JFP Limited, a commercial contract manufacturer, is in the process of carrying out a contract for a company in Guyana and is watching the situation carefully.
Keith Duncan, the CEO of JMMB Group, a financial services conglomerate with operations in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago, said his company is exploring how it can build relationships with the Guyanese private sector but may have to put those plans on hold until the situation is more certain.
“We would have to really think twice…we would be very careful how we move forward,” he said as he added: “Everybody is looking at building relationships with the Guyanese and the private sector and looking to see how we can bring our skill sets to bear in helping with the growth spurt that Guyana is going through. From a capital markets perspective we have the skills but this [dispute] will give us reason for pause, to look at it, to see where this is going to go — and until there is a definitive resolution to the challenges right now we will hold back.”
Still, Seaga’s and Duncan’s views of the situation are so far different from that of Sydney Thwaites, president of Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA).
“I think it’s a little too early to say [if the situation will cause us to pause business in Guyana],” Thwaites told Sunday Finance. He said he did not have any direct knowledge about how members of the JMEA were viewing the situation and if any had changed their minds about doing business in Guyana.
“It certainly doesn’t change my view of the opportunities there but it is certainly something to keep an eye on,” he declared.
“It’s a market I export to, and we have not seen a change in our business going in but, as I say, it is early and I don’t think we all really have a handle on what the implications are yet,” Thwaites pointed out. His company, Lubricating Specialties Company Jamaica, exports products to Guyana.
Guyana’s economy has been the fastest-growing in the world in the last few years since it began producing and exporting oil in late 2019. Its economy has tripled in size since then and is projected to double again in the next four years, pushing its per capita income to over US$42,000 by 2028 and thus putting it on par with wealthy countries like France and ahead of South Korea, Italy and Japan.
The explosive growth has attracted investors to the country, including from Jamaica. The country’s Ministry of Industry, Investments and Commerce even led a delegation of businesspeople to Guyana earlier this year to seek opportunities for their growth.
But while some worry, Venezuela has ratcheted up its antics, with Reuters reporting on Friday that it has begun contacting energy firms involved in a long-idled offshore gas project to push them to begin new exploration and operations near its maritime border with Guyana.
The request to act on blocks that have not been touched in more than a decade comes amid an escalating territorial dispute with Guyana that has rattled the country and led to an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
Maduro wants State oil company PDVSA, and oil majors’ BP, Chevron and Shell to revive an offshore project with some 8 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.
Called Plataforma Deltana, the discoveries were never developed amid insufficient capital, an unfinished sharing effort with Trinidad and Tobago into whose waters the field extends, and a lack of clear rules for investment.
Plataforma Deltana is the closest energy project that Venezuela has to waters in dispute with Guyana. Both nations have drawn maritime border lines that cross offshore oil and gas areas in the other’s claimed territory.
The territorial dispute with Guyana is being discussed at International Court of Justice (ICJ), which this month ordered Venezuela to refrain from taking any action that would alter the situation with its neighbour. That came after Maduro’s Government held a vote on a referendum asking Venezuelans whether they accepted the ICJ’s jurisdiction on the issue. They did not.
Maduro this week said he would authorise oil and mining exploration in the disputed areas with Guyana but did not elaborate on locations or projects. PDVSA and State industrial conglomerate CVG were asked to create specific divisions for that purpose.
Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali this week said Maduro’s actions were in blatant disregard of ICJ orders and an imminent threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity.