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Eyes Wide Open - Preparing for the Investor Invasion

The promise of oil

Caveat Emptor translated means “let the buyer beware”. Although this is a Latin expression, from a dead language, the principle is as sound now, as it was when it was probably first spoken. You the buyer, having expressed interest in purchasing an item(s) must take responsibility for being an informed consumer.

China has slowly been acquiring strategic assets throughout the world through a program of loan indebtedness. Countries build, purchase, acquire dams, waterways, bridges, tunnels, roadways, and rail systems all with funds borrowed from business enterprises headquartered in the People's Republic of China. Often and somewhat inevitably, the loans fall into arrears, and the valuable acquisitions become the property of enterprises operating out of China.

In 2010 Sri Lanka opened a $1.3bn port in Hambantota built by a Chinese company and funded by Chinese loan, but the flagship port became mired in heavy losses, and the Sri Lankan government ceded a controlling interest to Beijing-controlled China Merchants Port in exchange for a $1.1bn debt write-off. Sri Lanka is located on the sea route through which oil shipments travel from the Middle East, making energy security a key reason China was keen to invest.

Hambantota struggled to become a viable investment for the Sri Lankan government because of its isolation from an industrial hub resulting in no natural trade customers on its doorstep.

Now that China looks set to take control of the port they are negotiating with the Sri Lankan government to create a large economic zone by buying 15,000 acres of land to build factories and offices.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned from stories of countries who fall into the “trap”. What seems like benign benevolence can be an exercise in infinite patience by a strategic player.

Guyana must engage a core group of successful negotiators with proven international experience negotiating with multinational corporations both small and large to diligently "work" the full scope of the contracting program. This means pre-contract, post-contract and in-service monitoring of all aspects of the business engagement. These negotiators must be able to pass a background check and undergo asset disclosure scrutiny to avoid conflicts of interest. And, as part of any purchasing program, Guyana should take the time to talk to others who have made similar deals to learn where the pitfalls may be.

A progressive and positive economic growth program in Guyana is imperative and can only be achieved through engagement and partnerships with foreign entities who seek to invest in Guyana. But, there must be sound analysis into the economic, cultural, social, political and strategic impact of any deals negotiated. Caveat Emptor.

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