A Conversation with Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali

Photo of Rebecca Bill Chavez and President Irfaan Ali Inter-American Dialogue

Guyana stands as the fastest growing economy in the world, a significant player in the global energy market, and a regional leader in areas such as food security and addressing climate change. On September 13, 2023, President Mohamed Irfaan Ali joined Inter-American Dialogue President & CEO, Dr. Rebecca Bill Chavez, for a conversation regarding the US-Guyana bilateral relationship, providing a unique opportunity to gain insight into the dynamic landscape of Guyana and its approach to harnessing oil and gas revenue for responsible, sustainable, and inclusive long-term development.  

Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian A. Nichols set the stage with opening remarks and introduced President Ali and his delegation. He described President Ali as a visionary leader in a pivotal moment for his nation, the region, and the world at large. Nichols praised Ali’s commitment to strengthening democracy in Guyana and his work to ensure that the dramatic economic growth stemming from Guyana’s oil discoveries are used transparently and effectively for the Guyanese people as well for the region more broadly. He emphasized that President Ali’s leadership in this regard is matched by his resounding commitment to addressing climate change. Nichols also underscored the importance of the bilateral relationship between the US and Guyana, reiterating the compelling vision that Ali has for the future of the hemisphere. 

“The investments that Guyana is making in the hydrocarbon sector are exceeded by the efforts that they are making to preserve the rainforest in Guyana and investing in renewable energy” 

- Brian Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Regional Prosperity and Development

In his opening remarks, President Ali emphasized the significance of strengthening and broadening ties between the United States and CARICOM. He lauded Nichols for his active role in facilitating this endeavor. Ali underscored the significance of foreign direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean, highlighting its remarkable growth in recent years, particularly from the United States.  

President Ali placed paramount importance on climate, energy, and food security as critical pillars of Guyana's modernization journey, aiming to position the country as a global leader in these sectors. He stressed that the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region is currently lagging in achieving several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, pointing out the significant infrastructural and energy security deficiencies. In contrast, Ali explained that Guyana aspires to transition towards more modern, reliable, and diversified energy sources.  

Human Capital

Guyana aims to establish a forward-looking, robust, sustainable, and competitive economy. To achieve this, President Ali's vision includes substantial investments in education, healthcare, as well as physical and social infrastructure. His primary aim is to ensure that the population attains the requisite skills and capabilities necessary to thrive in this new economy.  

Public-private partnerships have become integral to Guyana's development. President Ali highlighted Guyana’s collaboration with Mount Sinai as a prime example, they advise and help develop high quality primary care to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. Recognizing the need to bolster the country's healthcare sector, Ali envisions a transformative increase in healthcare spending. His foremost priorities are to lower child mortality rates and enhance life expectancy.  

President Ali asserted that data already reflects the positive outcomes resulting from the government's actions, and increased investment will empower the country to cultivate highly efficient and competitive human capital. He emphasized that Guyana's social infrastructure investment levels are expected to be well above the regional norm in the next few years. These multifaceted investments signify the government's dedication to comprehensive development and progress in various sectors such as education, healthcare, and security.  

President Ali raised the "One Guyana" concept, which centers on building prosperity at both the household and community levels. He underscored the pivotal role of good governance and democracy as essential pillars for shaping the future of Guyana, ensuring a prosperous and equitable society. 

A Resilient Economic Landscape

President Ali emphasized the significance of the latest IMF report on Guyana, which highlights rapid economic growth, and praises the government’s comprehensive modernization plan. Projections indicate an impressive anticipated 38 percent real GDP growth in 2023, accompanied by notable growth in the non-oil economy.  

President Ali’s overarching goal is to enhance the competitiveness of the various sectors within Guyana's economy, ultimately creating a highly functional and resilient economic landscape. This vision extends to potential collaborations, including the exploration of partnerships with Brazil. 

Underpinning this vision is Guyana's impressive track record, boasting the world's lowest deforestation rate and the presence of high-quality carbon resources. Simultaneously, Guyana is actively advancing its ambition to become a leading eco-tourism destination through strategic partnerships. Furthermore, President Ali underscored the substantial benefits expected from their natural gas strategy, which targets a 50% reduction in energy costs before 2025, enhancing competitiveness and attracting increased manufacturing and industrial development to Guyana. He acknowledged that achieving this vision requires substantial investment. 

“The future for us is one that has a very diversified outlook, not built for oil and gas but rather built on oil and gas.”

- Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana 

Food Security

Chavez inquired about the significance of food insecurity in the region, the challenges it presents, and Guyana's efforts to combat food insecurity in the Caribbean. President Ali responded by emphasizing the importance of food security in the region due to climate vulnerabilities that make local agricultural production susceptible to adverse weather conditions.  

He stressed the necessity of underpinning agricultural initiatives with research, development, and advanced technology. Furthermore, he acknowledged the complexity of obtaining proper insurance for agriculture in the region and highlighted Guyana's commitment to collectively address this issue. This involves increasing budgetary expenditure and fostering partnerships between the United States and CARICOM. 

“We cannot speak about food security without addressing climate vulnerabilities”

- Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana 


President Ali also pointed out that there was a substantial surge in food prices, leading to social tension and governmental challenges during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, one of Guyana's primary objectives is to reduce its reliance on food imports. In pursuit of this goal, President Ali highlighted a particularly promising sector, poultry production. Recognizing the volatility of grain prices following the Ukraine conflict, he united a consortium of competing farmers into a holistic supply chain. By 2025, Guyana aims to achieve self-sufficiency in poultry production, and by 2027, Guyana intends to meet the entire region's demand. 

Moreover, Guyana is actively collaborating with countries such as India and Israel, drawing inspiration from Qatar's successful model in milk production. The broader aspiration is for Guyana to become a regional food hub and subsequently forge partnerships with nations like Barbados, leveraging their shipping logistics and substantial food terminal capacity. However, President Ali acknowledged the challenges posed by limited resources, including infrastructure constraints and barriers in this ambitious endeavor. 

Guyana’s Global Role

Concluding the event, Chavez raised the strategic significance of Guyana on the global stage. She commended President Ali's recognition of Guyana as an integral part of a larger whole, noting its multifaceted identity as a South American nation with a distinct Caribbean affiliation. Additionally, she appreciated President Ali's emphasis on Guyana's diverse roles, such as its leadership within CARICOM, its proximity to the Amazon rainforest, and its pivotal role in forest protection, even amid border disputes, in a concerted effort to avoid the pitfalls of the resource curse. 

Moreover, Guyana is poised to assume an even more prominent global role when it takes its seat in the UN Security Council in January 2024. 


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