AGM 2024 - Feature Address
Devindra Kissoon - President (AmCham Guyana)

Thank you very much, everyone. Good afternoon. 

It's a tremendous honor to be here. Congratulations to Stuart and the Board of Directors for the recent continuation of their term and for those of you who have ascended - congratulations to you all. 

I just want to reiterate AMCHAM Trinidad and AmCham Guyana share a very, very strong connection - as strong as our countries, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. When Nirad who was very insistent and supportive concerning our formation, and of course, instrumental in having me come to present here, we were all very excited to be here. Very excited to see the familiar faces, some of whom we know and we're very close to here. 

We really wanted to come to be able to share and assure you that we have an open pathway for business between Trinidad and Guyana. I'm hoping at the end of this short presentation you'll be as committed and convinced as I am that the term energy which is at the tip of your tongues in Trinidad, and now the tip of ours in Guyana, really is something that we shared together and that energy will create great synergy.

Now AmCham Guyana was formed in 2018 by myself and a few other colleagues. I, myself was out of Guyana for 19 years, practicing in London for seven, and in New York for thirteen, but was longing to return to my home country. The reason for that was as they say, “Gold is old and cold but there's nothing like the warmth of the human spirit”. And what was missing for us in New York practicing and moving all around different countries was the lime, the gaff, and the spirit of camaraderie whilst you're really doing serious business. In 2008, I came to Trinidad and qualified here (as a lawyer) and my Trinidadian friends and colleagues met me with open arms. Likewise, Guyanese are looking forward to receiving all of you with open arms. 

I returned to Guyana in 2013 and AmCham Guyana was formed in 2018 with the supportive Nirad and a team with just 13 members. Today, 5 years later we have over 200 members and we are expected to double that over the next 18 months. Now we didn't do that alone. I must re-emphasize the theme here is cooperation and the power of partnership. As I said, Nirad and the team have been very supportive of us. 

Likewise, Guyana’s trajectory has been robust and surprisingly unexpected. I flew in just a few hours ago and I'm flying back this afternoon, not because I didn't want to stay and partake in a Friday afternoon session, but because missing just a few hours in Guyana is missing a month. Things are happening. We are no longer in a position where we can leave because many people are visiting and doing business. Our GDP is exploding. 

Now, I'm here to tell you that the headlines you may read they're true, but I wanted to put some color on the flames, with a view of ensuring that you understood that there was a bridge between our Chambers and our countries, and of course, to welcome you and to let you know firsthand what's happening. 

So, our expected GDP this year is 67%. Now you need to understand that we were starting at zero. When I was making the decision to return to Guyana in 2007, it took me almost a decade to return, (I have that decision crystallized). Guyana, at that time, was the fastest-growing economy in the Caribbean. It was growing because of the extractive industries and agriculture, driven largely because of mining and gold. And of course, now with the advent of oil today, this year we are producing approximately 650,000 barrels per day. I'm not sure how that compares to what your country did or is doing. But just to say within the next 24 months, we're going to be producing 1.5. million barrels per day. 

We are one of the top 20 largest oil producers in the world. And with that has come great other opportunities because whilst, of course, oil and gas is the focus of what the headlines are, we as a very poor country - very poor, meaning that people are and were going to school without shoes and using rubber bands to keep their slippers together. Up to now (many people) do not have proper electricity because the infrastructure wasn't there. I'm sure many of you were taught by Guyanese or have been treated by Guyanese professionals or otherwise from a very bright country. Just as all of our Caribbean brothers and sisters, we know what it is to be poor. 

So, there's a huge emphasis on diversifying our economy. Agriculture is playing a very huge role. We are big into soybean production and corn production. Fertilizer growth is going to be a spin-off of the oil and gas industry. In addition to agriculture, we are dealing with renewables. It's very important for us to have a sustainable economy not governed by oil and gas. So, we're doing things such as wind energy, and solar energy. We are moving into a big Hydro Farm. Separate and apart from that, there are many other initiatives that really and truly show that the country is open for business in every single facet. 

We did the world's only and largest carbon credit sale at 750 million US dollars sale where we were paid not to cut down our rainforest but to preserve it. So, ecotourism and our contribution, to ensuring that our climate isn't affected by our activities, are also the highest form of our agenda. 

I say all of these things just to let you know that for every single business in which each and every one of you is involved, there's an opportunity for you, and we need the help. We need the help because we have 800,000 people. The amount of oil that we have and the energy that will be produced because of its size is going to be one of the highest earning per capita incomes in the world within 24 months. We really need a million more people to build out what we have. We only have 300,000 working people not all of which are skilled. So, what we need and what we have are two completely different things and that's where the synergy of our Chambers becomes incredibly important.

Along with that growth, of course now with the infrastructural development, we are in the process of building a deep-water harbor. That becomes very important because we have almost completed our road from Guyana to Brazil. It turns out that the transit time to move produce from Guyana to Brazil is shorter than to move produce from within Brazil. So as the Brazilian transit time is 24 to 36 hours, in another twelve months to move projects to Guyana it will be five hours. With the deep-water habit, it enables us to actually be a port of origin for export to South America. So, you can see the possibilities are endless. 

Guyana is 83,000 square miles bigger than England, Scotland, and Wales put together. 95% is virgin so there's lots of opportunity for growth that will benefit all of us as a Caribbean region. I think we're all very grateful in Guyana for the support of the Caribbean has given us over the years and we are ready willing and able to reciprocate. 

So, what does that mean for you? How could you just come and do business with us?  

Well, that's very simple. We share an almost identical legal system. It's very robust. Our final court of appeal is here in Trinidad and Tobago which gives investors great comfort that the sanctity of the contract is respected. I find the report system to be as robust as in any other country. It takes no longer to litigate a case in New York, for example. Arbitration and international dispute resolution features and it's quite easy to access so certainly for the sanctity of the contract, that's easy. 

Taxation, well our authority hasn't been as robust as yours because we are fostering and encouraging growth. We are at a different stage in our trajectory, but the taxation principles are similar and the ability to move dividends between Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, it's quite simple because we are governed by the same treaty. 

Similarly, for the opportunity to be able to work in Guyana, work permits are accessible to all of us as Caribbean citizens and nationals. And the ability to form a company. So unlike the Bahamas, for example, the Bahamas requires you to be owned by a Bahamian or to have a Bahamian on the board, Guyana doesn't have any restriction on residency, shareholding, or control. 

So, we are very much open for business. We have no foreign exchange restrictions, the US currencies are freely traded and are available for the purposes of doing work. What has caused some charging and which I wanted to spend a little bit of time with explaining here today is our Local Content Act. Just as Trinidad and other countries have done and because we are fledgling and we don't have the capacity and the human skill set, the government saw it fit to form a local content act and to put into place a local content act which was really meant to give locals an opportunity to share in the spoil of what we have. It wasn't meant to be a barrier to trade but just to make sure that everyone got their fair share, and, with the expectation that locals contribute equally to any venture. 

However, I have found in my practice that there have been a lot of misconceptions as to what the Local Content Act means. What it really means is that, in a nutshell, is that we're open for business and it doesn't apply to everyone. Only if you're doing business in the petroleum sector and if you're doing business with a contractor whose Exxon, Hess, or CNOOC, or a direct subcontractor of that contractor, such as SBM or SIPHON does the local content apply to you. 

So, if you're a sub-sub, it ought not to apply and of course, if you're doing a free enterprise business such as construction, agriculture, computers, or security it doesn't apply unless you're going to be contacted by 1 of the 2 categories I just told you about. 

What does that mean? The Local Content Act requires that 51% of the company be beneficially owned by Guyanese with 75% of the management being controlled by Guyanese and 90% of the workforce being Guyanese. But it's not meant to be a sudden shock. There are certain specialist industries which are given an opportunity to ramp up. And in any event, the lawyers are robust enough to ensure that all shareholder contributions are protected. It's just important for you to know and understand we have many, many persons who are working under this umbrella and it's not a barrier to trade at all but rather is meant to be an encouragement. 

We have found, for example, that Trinidadian companies have come to Guyana and employed all Guyanese managers and workers, maintained their dividends, developed Guyana, and have had a rich acid base and dividends, according to Guyana resulting from this local content policy. 

That said we are in the state also building out tremendous infrastructure. There will be seven (7) new hotels opening over the next 12 months, five (5) of which are almost completed. So, we look forward to you visiting our shores, and certainly, I look forward to receiving each and every one of you in our offices in Guyana. 

So, this was just meant to be a short presentation to give you an overview of what's happening, to welcome all of you to our country, and to say, “I look forward to seeing you all in the near future”. 

Thank you very much for your time this afternoon. 


AGM 2024 - President's Speech
Stuart Franco - President | AMCHAM T&T