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Guyana’s Participation in Multilateral and Regional Trade Negotiations and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Working papers

Guyana's physical and economic circumstances dictate that it engages itself significantly in international trade and climate change negotiations, among others. Whether this translates into deep and consistent engagement, as opposed to the tentative sort, depends on a number of factors.

The experiences with the main trade negotiations -- WTO, ACP/EU, and FTAA -- tend to reveal the need to develop a more coherent and on-going approach to addressing the country's trade interests. The capacity that exists within the public, private, NGO and academic sectors must be more evenly and consistently applied. Without a strong analytical base for negotiations -- particularly one that is strongly related to specific economic and social sectors -- it will be difficult to create general awareness and thus convince policy makers of the need for deeper engagement.

Compared to climate change issues, public debate on trade at least exists at some levels. The fact that there are regular newspaper articles and occasional public seminars indicates that some amount of general interest exists. This needs to be built upon but the required effort can only be justified if public debate is informed by both relevant and informed analysis. In this regard, the limited role that the University of Guyana is apparently playing in trade analysis needs to be addressed. Developed countries have shown that negotiating positions benefit significantly from a close involvement with the academic community. Given the severe budget limitations facing the country, the need to demonstrate the benefits to be derived from engagement in trade negotiations assumes even more importance than in the case of better-endowed countries.

Being involved in several large trade negotiations simultaneously is no easy task. This was the prime reason for the setting up of the RNM. But the RNM cannot replace the role of national administrations in pursuing their own interests. National capacity building therefore continues to be of great importance. Donors who support the RNM may therefore wish to consider the implementation of integrated programmes that simultaneously support activities at both the regional and national levels.

Participation in climate change negotiations has so far been technically driven. The low profile that climate change issues enjoy both in public policy and in terms of general awareness, is essentially due to the long-run horizon that characterizes the issues, as well as the inability of technicians to translate the issues into practical strategies that connect with the more immediate and pressing socio-economic needs of the country. The susceptibility of the coast to flooding is of course widely appreciated by all segments of the population but this does not in itself translate into a strong awareness of the perils of climate change/sea level rise. Other aspects of climate change (effects on fisheries breeding grounds, possible declines in agricultural yields etc.) are even further from the minds of the average citizen. In addition, since climate change is not a phenomenon over which Guyana as an individual country has any control, there may well be the feeling among most of the population that there is nothing to be gained from any sort of involvement in the issue. Public awareness campaigns can play a part in bringing the population up to speed but, for maximum effect, such initiatives must forge a strong link between the global institutional framework for climate change and domestic developmental and poverty reduction issues. Similarly, unless government can be convinced that a deeper engagement in climate change issues will result in significant developmental assistance, little can be expected by way of increased prioritization.

The decision of COP7 to fully establish the CDM therefore offers technicians in Guyana an opportunity to promote climate change as a practical developmental issue. How Guyana responds to the CDM will be instructive. Taking advantage of this facility will require significant improvements in investment approval mechanisms within the public sector, particularly as it relates to the allocation of land, as well as a greater thrust towards attracting foreign direct investment in general. Each sector will have to be made aware of the benefits to be derived from the CDM and detailed guidelines provided on the types of investments that are eligible. Special systems may have to be set up for facilitating CDM investments, preferably as part of a larger system for promoting environmental investments as a whole.

To date, Guyana cannot be said to have taken full advantage of its environmental bounty and it is possible that climate change could provide the cutting edge for an environmental industry (eco-tourism, alternative energy, non-timber forestry, bio-pharmaceuticals, organic agriculture etc.). For this to happen, there will have to be an improvement in the profile of environmental policy, converting it from a collection of measures imposed or promoted by donor agencies and NGOs to an integral component of social and economic policy and programmes.

Nigel Durrant