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The news of the ANSA McAL conglomerate engaging in a project in Guyana to produce two million tons of sugar and 40 million gallons of ethanol a year could not have come at a better time for the Caricom dream, which is dying a slow and painful death. For decades, the core rationale behind Caricom has always been to combine the strengths and resources of Caricom member states to produce finished and semi-finished industrial and manufactured products for regional use and for the export market.
The ANSA McAL project combines Caribbean energy, capital, labour and natural resources in a way that is in harmony with the aspirations of Eric Williams, Michael Manley and Forbes Burnham in the 1970s. Then, the three leaders wanted to bring together this country’s abundant gas resources with the land and bauxite of Jamaica and Guyana to produce aluminium products and derivatives for export. And this as opposed to the region remaining a seller of raw materials, while the real value is added to those raw materials through technology, skills and capital abroad. Political inaction and deep-seated insularity militated against those projects becoming reality.
It is of great significance that a private sector company such as ANSA McAL has seen the possibilities for the combination of resources and regional industrial production that will provide quality jobs for Caribbean people, generate wealth for the company’s shareholders and lead to an improvement in the standard of living in Guyana as a result of the taxes paid. Indeed, it was always the intention that it would be the private sector that would eventually take over the Caricom enterprise to make full use of capacities and resources. Today, ANSA McAL is coming together with the Government of Guyana in what can be the defining Caricom project to influence the future of the 15-member community direction. “As a result, the Government of Guyana and a subsidiary of the ANSA McAL Group, a regional conglomerate, have agreed to partner to establish a world-scale biofuel project.
The proposed ethanol project will be well positioned to successfully become a low-cost, globally competitive provider of ethanol to international and regional markets,” reads the statement from the conglomerate. The significance of the project must be placed in the context of the Single Market and Economy having been put on hold until some unknown date into the distant future. The project must also be assessed against the backdrop of continuing restrictions on the promised free movement of workers and capital to build industry across the Caribbean.
At the moment, one of the most ardent integrationists, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, is asking leaders as they prepare to meet at the Intercessional Meeting of Heads of Government if the pressing of the “pause” button on the integration movement “is but a euphemism for standing still which, in a dynamic world, is sliding backwards.”
The importance of private sector initiative in the project is that business people are usually far more alert to pro- tecting their investments and looking for other second and third-level possibilities rather than being caught up in time-consuming theoretical debates.
Further, the greater efficiency the private sector brings to its operations is good news for the speed of initiation of projects while always being conscious of quality production techniques to be applied. Very important would be the input of the Guyana Government by way of clearing mountainous bureaucratic blockages out of the way.
The ANSA McAL sugar and ethanol project can come to be a model for such projects to multiply. The onus must now be on other dynamic and brave conglomerates to move beyond marginal forms of cooperation in trading to the creation of enterprises which have the potential for being viable and value-adding in nature.
February 24, 2012