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On the road to success

Article - January 26, 2012
With a wealth of natural and mineral resources, Suriname is set to become one of Latin America's most vibrant economies - especially as post-colonial links are being eschewed in favour of exciting, international initiatives

With positive forecasts from, among others, the IMF, it seems to be looking up for Suriname, the little country that has been such a strategic ally to the U.S. Inflation has stabilized and the economy has experienced tremendous growth, which peaked at 6% in 2008 and has since remained buoyant.

The country has intelligently, and diligently, been following a path of liberalization. Investments from both private and public sectors have supported growth across all sectors. As a result of the liberalization of the previously monopolized telecoms market, two new big players entered the market. The number of operators – and levels of efficiency – increased dramatically, and a new fiber-optic cable system from Trinidad was established last year.

Massive infrastructural investment has also been witnessed. As Michael Miskin, Minister of Trade and Industry explains: “The Port of Paramaribo is undergoing major renovations with a US$20m loan from the Green Union. Nickerie, a rice district, 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. The airport is being renovated. And recently about 1,492 km of roads were paved….”

There is also a bridge being built over the Corantijn River. In fact, from 2001-2009, the U.S. dollar value of cement imports increased 17 times. And there are important collaborations with neighboring countries, in particular Guyana, which are set to further improve access to a country already ideally located at the axis between Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We have gold like nobody else, we have untapped natural resources which will last for another one hundred years, we are a safe country, we have potential in the energy sector, we have water... We have everything!”

Michael Miskin, Minister of Trade and Industry

“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. I think that, within a year, the infrastructure will have massively improved from French Guiana to Suriname… It seems to be looking up for Suriname.”

INVESTMENT FRIENDLY

Infrastructural developments are being supported by investor-friendly pragmatism. It is now much easier to do business: “We liberalized the licensing process by removing all barriers for setting up companies and, since June 2, 2011, all you have to do to open a company in Suriname is just to register at the Surinamese Chamber of Commerce.” 

Colonial ties are also being re-examined: “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 UNASUR process, and also part of the ALADI project, which includes connecting all of the South American states…”

In 2003, a new trade law was enacted that, according to the Minister, “liberalized the whole trade game.”

He explains: “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. We are also talking to the United States to look at the Caribbean nation initiative...”

STRONG U.S. LINKS

Meanwhile, state-owned companies are working on an ethanol project with the help of Brazilian experts. Gold aluminium and oil are luring investors, in particular from Canada. But the Minister also wants to underline older relationships: “Suriname has maybe been the most important ally of the U.S. During WWII, Suriname produced the aluminium for U.S. war machines, for planes, and Suriname was a strategic ally for U.S. success in the war… Now, the U.S. is the first import provider for Suriname, and also one of the largest export markets, so the relationship is close.”

Mr. Miskin feels Suriname’s rice export market can also be exploited. “There is big potential for producing secondary rice products. If you take a look at the shelves in U.S. supermarkets and what consumers are consuming, we need to make a shift. In the last 80 years, we have been exporting bulk white rice, whereas the added value is done in Europe. There is a lot of potential for specialty foods. We just had an undertaking with the “Fancy Food Fair” in Washington…”

The Minister’s mood, like the economy, is bouyant: “We want investors to see Suriname as the most important emerging economy in the South American continent. We have gold like nobody else, we have untapped natural resources which will last for another one hundred years, we are a safe country, we have potential in the energy sector, we have water... We have everything!”

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