Guyana clinches rice export deal with Panama

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Seated from left: GRDB General Manager, Mr. Jagnarine Singh, Director General of Panama’s Institute of Agriculture Marketing, Mr. Edwin Cardenad signing the rice sales contract. Standing, from left, are Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and RPA General-Secretary, Dharamkumar Seeraj

-5,000 tonnes of rice per month to be shipped

GUYANA is positioned to become the most important player in the rice market of Panama, according to Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, following the inking of a deal that will see Guyana supplying 5,000 tonnes of rice to Panama on a monthly basis, beginning from September.

At a press briefing yesterday at the Guyana Rice Development Board’s (GRDB) head office, Kingston Georgetown, he explained that Panama’s rice imports currently stand at 150,000 tonnes annually, an addition to their

Panama’s Vice Minister of Agriculture, Estebana Giron Dias, hands over the agreement documents to Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
Panama’s Vice Minister of Agriculture, Estebana Giron Dias, hands over the agreement documents to Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy

own rice production.
He noted that the rice deal, which was signed by the Panama’s Vice-Minister of Agriculture, Estebana Giron Dias, and the GRDB General Manager, Mr. Jagnarine Singh, will see Guyana exporting 50,000 tonnes, of the 150,000 tonnes, to Panama.
The agreement was signed last Thursday, at the Office of the Minister of Agriculture in Panama City and followed a meeting in Colombia between the Presidents of Guyana and Panama. The two leaders met as Presidents for the first time in Columbia on Wednesday last, August 6. President Varela was sworn in as President of Panama on July 2nd 2014.
A team led by Dr. Ramsammy concluded successful meetings with officials of the Government of Panama that resulted in Guyana being given meaningful access to the Panamanian market. The other members on the team included General Manager of the GRDB, Mr. Jagnarine Singh and General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association, Mr. Dharamkumar Seeraj.
The remaining 100,000 tonnes, according to Dr. Ramsammy, can be supplied by Guyana’s private sector, since the two Governments agreed on levelling the playing field for Guyanese companies to be able to bid to supply the remaining tonnage. Presently, Panama’s private sector controls the local food market, making it an open market.

From left: Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and Panama’s Vice Minister of Agriculture of Panama, Estebana Giron Dias signing MOU. Seated in the centre witnessing the signing is Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela
From left: Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and Panama’s Vice Minister of Agriculture of Panama, Estebana Giron Dias signing MOU. Seated in the centre witnessing the signing is Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela

“I have no doubt that our private sector will be successful in bidding to supply the 100,000 tonnes,” he said, adding his assurance that the private sector will have facilitation support for the exportation from the GRDB.
The Agriculture Minster added that new contracts for 2015 are to be negotiated on satisfactory conclusion of these initial contracts.

MEETING EXPORT TARGETS
Dr. Ramsammy contends that the rice deal with Panama will not only see Guyana gaining “meaningful entrance” into a significant market on a long term basis, but will also increase the likelihood of Guyana’s rice export target being met.
“Because of this deal, the original target of reaching 500,000-tonne export by 2020 has a real chance of happening in 2014,” he said.
The Agriculture Minister highlighted that it is expected that Guyana’s export for 2014 will surpass the 300,000 mark by end of August, the earliest time it has ever been able to reach 300,000 tonnes.
With this new export for 2014, Guyana is expected to export between 475,000 to 500,000 tons for 2014 and to reach about 550,000 tons in 2015. The actual export target for 2014 was 460,000 tons. The export in 2013 was 394,000 tons.
“While production level will reach the 2020 target of 600,000 tons this year, the Government of Guyana’s effort has ensured that our market expansion programme also is keeping a close upward trajectory with increased production,” he said.
Engagements with Panama have been ongoing for the last 18 months, however, Dr. Ramsammy acknowledge that the actual finalisation of the rice deal was due to the meeting between the two Presidents.

MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL
Dr. Ramsammy added that the signing of the new contracts to supply rice to Panama, through the Government-to-Government arrangement, is also mutually beneficial, in that it:
* Ensures that Guyana’s rice market continues to expand, even as production has increased significantly; and
* Is in line with the move by Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela to ensure a lower cost of living for Panamanians.
He stated that the Government of Guyana, through the Ministry of Agriculture and the GRDB, and in collaboration with the Guyana Rice Producers’ Association (RPA), has been working diligently to expand market for Guyana’s rice and paddy to overseas markets.
“At the meeting, the President of Panama was very assertive in describing Panama’s commitment to strengthening ties with Guyana and CARICOM and the agreement to allow Guyana to be a supplier of rice to Panama is a concrete example of how south-south cooperation can be accelerated. He expressed his determination to ensure that the people of Panama are able to access food at an affordable price and he sees the agreement between his Government and the Government of Guyana as one way to keep his commitment to the people of Panama to lower the cost of living,” Dr. Ramsammy said.

GREATER COLLABORATION
The rice contract signed with the Government of Panama is a part of a larger agriculture cooperation agreement with Panama.
The Agriculture Minister disclosed too that Guyana signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Panama for collaboration in the development of agriculture and trade between the two countries, one an agriculture giant in CARICOM, and the other a trade and economic hub in Central America.
The MOU is intended to facilitate a partnership between the two countries for scientists and agricultural research institutions to work collaboratively to enhance agriculture and trade between the countries and with other CARICOM and Central American countries.
The areas identified for the collaboration include, but are not limited to, rice, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, fish and other fields related to agriculture. The activities and programmes of cooperation will be achieved through exchange of delegations of experts, scientists and technicians, seed crops and animal breeds, information and technical documents, trade in agriculture products, joint organisation of technical seminars, workshops and conferences, coordination of research projects of interest to both countries, among others.
Dr. Ramsammy noted that a Panamanian delegation is expected to visit Guyana in October for the Guyana’s first agriculture research conference. Subsequent to this, a working group, established to ensure the success of the bilateral engagements, is expected to make exchange visits every six months.
The MOU gives effect to the intention of President Donald Ramotar and President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama to develop stronger ties between Guyana and Panama and between CARICOM and Central America – an issue that constituted broader discussions during their August 6 meeting in Columbia.
Dr. Ramsammy expressed his optimism for the continued progress in the local agriculture sector.

(By Vanessa Narine)