Venezuela rice shipments to resume
Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder, has come out to clear the air on the Guyana/Venezuela rice agreement imbroglio, revealing that a rice and paddy deal was actually not in jeopardy of being halted as was reported over the weekend. Rather, it was all due to a misunderstanding between the wharf receiving the ships in Venezuela and the Guyana Rice Development Board. The Minister, during a meeting yesterday with the Guyana Millers and Exporters Marketing Association yesterday, explained that while there was no question of Venezuela putting a halt on rice shipments before November, when the annual contracts end, there was a responsibility on Guyana to slow up its shipments, in keeping with the agreed schedule. The delegation, which was headed by Chairman of the Guyana Millers and Exporters Marketing Association, Dr. Peter De Groot, sought an update from the Minister, as to whether the Guyana/Venezuela rice deal was in jeopardy. According to the Minister, in a bid to ensure that rice shipments on the wharf were cleared as fast as possible to make room for more shipments, rice was actually being exported in excess of the agreed schedule, overwhelming Venezuelan rice authorities. “On Friday, the logistics Officer of the GRDB got a call from someone who receives rice (shipments) on the wharf in Venezuela, stating that Guyana must stop shipping any rice to Venezuela,” Holder explained in an interview with this publication. According to the Minister, initial attempts to seek clarification from the Venezuelan Ambassador were futile. The Minister then got hold of Guyana’s Ambassador in Venezuela, Geoff da Silva. Da Silva made it clear he was not told of the suspension of the rice shipments. “Apparently, our rice farmers were trying to hustle up to get their stuff off the wharf, in time for the next shipment. So they were virtually in breach of the agreement,” the Minister said. This, the Minister said, accounted for the Venezuelans indicating that shipments already on the high seas could go through, but no other rice shipments should proceed until they were otherwise advised. In a nutshell, the Minister related that Venezuela had indicated its unwillingness to continue the shipments in the current way it was done. The total quantity under the existing contract will be accepted until the contract comes to an end in November, the Minister said. There are some 270 containers of rice awaiting shipment on the John Fernandes wharf and this update will no doubt act as a reprieve for millers, who still have until November before the oil-for-rice agreement comes to an end. This also comes against the backdrop of Venezuela claiming sovereignty over Guyana’s waters since the significant oil find by American oil giant, Exxon Mobil just 100 miles off of the Stabroek Block. The issue is one which has seen the government displaying complete resistance to Venezuela’s declaration and even its rhetoric over the past few weeks. Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, had said last Wednesday that Venezuela claimed it had hinted to the past administration as well as to top officials in the Guyana Rice and Development Board that Guyana needs to start looking at other markets. Based on records over the past two to three years, Jordan had said that it would show that Venezuela was scaling back on the volume of rice it was taking from Guyana. A high level team, inclusive of representatives from the Guyana Millers and Exporters Marketing Association is expected to visit the Spanish-speaking country shortly, to discuss the way forward for the supply of commodities, not necessarily rice. “Venezuela has assured us that rice shipments from Guyana have not been stopped. However, the rate of supply has to be adjusted in keeping with the agreed schedule,” Minister Holder said. The meeting was also attended by Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture Mr. George Jervis.