An agreement has been signed between the government of Suriname and Chinese company China Zhong Heng Tai Investment (CZHT) to rehabilitate Suriname’s palm-oil sector. This includes rehabilitation of palm-oil estates and a factory which was officially closed in 2004. In the 1980s, domestic palm-oil production was the main source of Suriname’s cooking oil.
An investment of US$4.5m, guaranteed by the Chinese government, is allowing rehabilitation work to get under way, including the shipment of oil palm seedlings from Malaysia. Initially 2,000 ha will be sown, with a further 6,000 ha made available for cultivation of other crops, in order to experiment on which other agricultural products can be grown for export. It is expected that palm-oil processing will start within 3 years.
These developments need to be seen against the background of far more extensive Chinese investment (both private and government backed) in other sectors in the Caribbean, including tourism, and in the case of Suriname a major investment of US$600 million in harbour, port and road infrastructure projects to ‘link the country to its natural resource rich southern neighbor, Brazil’.
Chinese companies are showing a growing interest in the rehabilitation of ailing agricultural sectors in the Caribbean, from sugar in Jamaica (see Agritrade article, ‘ Ambitious plans for Jamaican sugar sector’, June 2011) to palm oil in Suriname. These investments appear to be focused on serving national and regional markets.
However, in Africa warnings have emerged that trade patterns with China are replicating and entrenching traditional patterns of trade, involving the export of raw materials and the import of manufactured goods (see Agritrade article, ‘ Africa urged to diversify and structurally reform’, July 2011). African governments are being urged to use emerging trade relations to try and structurally transform their engagement with the world economy by moving up various value chains.
It remains to be seen whether the emerging pattern of Chinese engagement in the Caribbean will be different from that in Africa, and whether it will in fact foster the development of local value-added processing for national and regional markets.