Government is of the view that the Spanish-speaking nation of Venezuela might still be purchasing Guyana’s rice, albeit not through the former means, but via neighbouring Suriname.
A rice shipment from Guyana to Venezuela
Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman said Government received a hunch that rice farmers in Berbice may still be shipping their products to Venezuela, through Suriname.
Venezuela, almost a year ago, ended its rice trade agreement with Guyana, which was carried out through the PetroCaribe deal – a pact that saw Guyana paying for Venezuela’s oil with rice produced here. However, the Natural Resources Minister said the alleged deal is said to be raking in a significantly higher price than what is being offered on the world market. Addressing journalists at Government’s post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday, Trotman said Government has taken note of the stark increase of rice production in the Berbice region.
“I know, for example, that Venezuela is buying from Suriname and there are suggestions that some of our rice is travelling to Venezuela via Suriname. Certainly, there seems to be an uptake in rice farming in the Corentyne, so there is something happening there, so the prospects look good,” Trotman said.
Venezuela in October 2015 made its intention official that it was no longer interested in receiving Guyana’s rice, when it struck a deal with Suriname. Venezuela had said that it was seeking the exchange for fuel and rice at “favourable prices”.
The Presidents of the two countries had reached an agreement for the Spanish-speaking country to provide oil to the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community (Caricom) country in exchange for rice.
Thousands of farmers have since been affected by Venezuela’s move to discontinue the rice for oil deal with Guyana. The historic rice deal sealed by the previous People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela several years ago, saw Guyana receiving oil in exchange for rice.
Long before the crisis concerning the future of PetroCaribe, the political unrest and economic difficulties which had coincided with President Nicolás Maduro’s accession to office had raised questions about the future of the agreement.
Things began taking a slant in May 2015 when United States oil and gas giant ExxonMobil announced that it had found more than 295 feet of high-quality oil-bearing sandstone reservoirs. In early March, the oil and gas company, one of the largest in the world, was warned by the Spanish-speaking nation to refrain from going ahead with its planned exploratory drilling activity, on a concession awarded by Guyana, offshore its Essequibo Coast.
Venezuela has repeatedly laid claim to the area being explored, ignoring an 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award, which was declared as the full and final settlement of the boundary between the two South American nations. Following the discovery of oil-bearing rocks in the area, Venezuela’s aggression grew stronger.
However, ExxonMobil assured that it will not be intimidated by the country’s claims and will continue its work in Guyana’s offshore waters. The multibillion-dollar oil exploration project, which is expected to be executed over 10 years, got underway in early March.
Venezuela had been by far the major market for Guyana’s rice and paddy, accounting for around 60 per cent of total exports in 2010. In 2014, exports to Venezuela accounted for approximately 38 per cent of total exports though the overall tonnage exported (150,000 tonnes of rice and 50,000 tonnes of paddy) far exceeded the 2013 export levels.