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An informed view of Suriname's past, present and future

Interview - January 26, 2012
United World talks to Michael Miskin, Minister for Trade and Industry

Suriname has come a long way in the past decade. Inflation has stabilized and the economy, which peaked at 6% in 2008, has experienced tremendous growth and remained buoyant ever since. Furthermore, investments from both the private and public sectors have supported growth across all sectors of the economy. Could you please give your opinion on the state of the economy in Suriname, and what is your evaluation of the objectives achieved up to now?

With regard to the economic roles, in the last few years we have seen that the economy has stabilized. Since 2004, GDP has grown in several sectors. We have seen that, for example, investment has increased in telecommunications. This happened as a result of the liberalization of the telecom market. Two new big players were allowed to enter the market, so we went from a state monopoly to a liberalization of the market, which brought in a lot of investment. The number of operators has increased dramatically in the last few years.

Tourism has also grown, especially eco-tourism. Hotel infrastructure has increased. In the past four years, 30 new hotels were built, including the Marriott and the Best Western. The infrastructure for tourism has improved as well as the overall infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, which is also necessary for tourism. The government undertook a major paving of the roads project; about 1,492 km (927 miles) of roads were paved throughout the country. The telecommunications infrastructure has also improved, with the new fiber-optic cable from Trinidad that was established just last year. We are working on the infrastructure for ports. The Port of Paramaribo is undergoing major renovations with a 20 million dollar loan from the Green Union. Nickerie is a rice district, which also has a small port that is being renovated for the export of rice. We are working closely with the Ministry of Finance, Customs, and the Port Authority because it is all about moving goods in and out of the country. The airport is also being renovated.

What about banking and the financial sector?

Regarding the banking sector, we got two new banks in the last four or five years, a new insurance company, and also the country is now saturated with ‘Cambios’ now. We are part of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, but the move towards the single currency is going to involve financial liberalization with the other states. In the financial sector you will see some changes that will make doing business in Suriname a bit easier.

With regard to the infrastructure sector, there’s a bridge being built over the Corantijn River...

Yes, that is being explored. When it comes to regional integration, for years our orientation was towards the Netherlands, but that was more of a historical, colonial tie. Now we are focusing on Latin America, we are part of the continent. We are part of the Unasur process, and also part of the ALADI project, which includes connecting all of the South American states. One of the things that we need to do is build a bridge to Guyana in order to do our share of the infrastructure to connect to Latin America. The roads towards the western part of Suriname have already been done. The roads towards the eastern part have already been done as well with funding from the European Union. I think that, within a year, the infrastructure will have massively improved from French Guiana to Suriname. The bridge is one thing that we are looking at to finance, but it seems to be looking up for Suriname.

“For years our orientation was towards the Netherlands, but that was more of a historical, a colonial tie. Now we are focusing on Latin America, we are part of the continent.”

Michael Miskin, Minister for Trade and Industry

How would you consider that the trading sector  is contributing to the country’s brand abroad?

We have been following a path of trade liberalization. In 2003, a new trade law was enacted that liberalized the whole trade game. When it comes to trade with the outside world, we are part of Caricom. In 2006, the Caricom single market was enacted, which is like free trade among the Caricom states. We also signed the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union in 2008, which makes trade with the EU possible with thousands of products. We are also exploring relationships with Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, China, and India.

What do you think will be the next trade agreement to be signed?

We are working now with Canada. We are also talking to the United States to look at the Caribbean nation initiative. I think anywhere from food products to ethanol, because the state-owned companies are working on an ethanol project with the help of Brazil, of course. If there’s one place you want to learn about ethanol, it’s Brazil.

What kinds of initiatives or programs are being carried out to promote industry?

Gold is one of them. Canada has invested a lot gold in Suriname with IAMGOLD, and we’re also talking with Newmont. We have started a negotiation commission last Saturday, and the chairman of the commission said we have four big projects. The first one is Suralco-Alcoa. Suralco is the mining company in Suriname. Within 90 days they will take a decision about mining somewhere in the middle of the country. IAMGOLD will take a second mine, Staatsolie will invest in a refinery, and we are also going to deal with Newmont, a new gold company. Taking a look at our history, there’s always mining, but now we are also trying to focus on agriculture and forestry.

We know that your Ministry has been dealing with the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the CAIPA in order to try to promote the attraction of FDI. What would you say is the main advantage that Suriname has in order to attract FDI, especially from North American investors?

I would say mining. Suriname is a relatively safe country. We have the availability of natural resources: gold, aluminum, and other mining products that are used for construction. In agriculture, rice is a major thing. I think there is big potential for producing secondary rice products.

Tourism has potential, also. As I mentioned, the number of hotels has dramatically increased to accommodate tourists. Also the roads to the interior parts have improved, which benefits eco-tourism. Most tourists that come here are from our community in Holland; one third of our community lives in the Netherlands. But when it comes to eco-tourism, people come from the U.S. It’s more about the eco-tourism with the U.S. because, compared to Trinidad, Jamaica, and Mexico, we are still a bit expensive. This is still a market for those who are really into eco-tourism. Still, things are improving.

Also, regarding flight connections in Suriname, we still have some work to be done there. Transport has potential. We saw that, in 2007, a new company established itself here; a company that moves the loads of ships. So we’ve seen some major progress in the transport sector. Also in construction and engineering, the use of cement is a major indicator of the building activities. From 2001-2009, the U.S. dollar-value of cement imports increased 17 times. There was a major boost in construction in Suriname, and the buildings here are also becoming more sophisticated, so there’s also a market for engineering.

What would be your final message to our U.S. readers?

The U.S. community should come to our country to see the beautiful nature for tourism. On the industry side, we are looking for investment in mining, forestry, and agriculture. We would like the U.S. readers to see Suriname as the most important emerging economy in the South American continent.