By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — After several changes in dates, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will become the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Suriname when he arrives on Thursday for a two-day visit. A few days later, on September 23, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi will also arrive in the country, elevating the international profile of both Suriname and neighbouring Guyana, where ExxonMobil and Tullow have discovered vast quantities of oil and gas.
Turkey has emerged a major investor in Africa involving construction of airports and other major infrastructure projects. It is the world’s 17th largest economy, and has been invited by the government to invest in Suriname.
During the visit, Çavuşoğlu will hold talks with President Desi Bouterse, who has personally pushed for strong ties with Turkey and sent his vice president Robert Ameerali to Ankara in 2013 to expand Suriname-Turkish economic relations. The two countries have appointed ambassadors, honourary consuls, and bilateral cooperation and Turkish investments in Suriname are growing.
Through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), ties between Ankara and Paramaribo have grown because of frequent meetings between their diplomats at the United Nations or at OIC and IsDB forums.
During meetings with Bouterse, along with Suriname’s foreign minister Yildiz Beighle-Pollack, bilateral relations and prospects to enhance cooperation between Turkey and Suriname will be discussed. They will also exchange views on regional and international developments, according to a press release from the Turkish foreign ministry.
Suriname is looking for Turkish investments and there may be some significant announcements and agreements signed during this visit.
Former foreign minister of Suriname, Niermala Badrising, during a bilateral meeting in Istanbul in 2016, delivered a proposal to Çavuşoğlu soliciting Turkish Airlines’ (THY) cooperation in Suriname’s aviation sector. Also, under an agreement between the IsDB and Turkish Airlines, state owned airline Surinam Airways can receive training and support from Turkish Airlines.
The two countries are expected to sign a bilateral air agreement, which will pave the way for a Turkish/Surinam Airways investment. Turkish Airlines’ cooperation may enable the government to turn Paramaribo into a regional hub.
Suriname is seeking Turkish investment in the following areas: ICT, energy, tourism, housing and infrastructure. The country has opportunities for trade and investment ventures in natural resources, such as gold, bauxite, oil and other minerals, and an abundance of arable farmland is available for the development of the agro-industry, Badrising said in Istanbul.
According to the United States Geological Survey, an estimated 13.6 billion barrels of oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of natural gas probably exist in the Guyana-Suriname Basin. As a result, US ExxonMobil and Tullow Oil have found substantial oil reserves offshore Guyana and this is why the Guiana Shield is drawing diplomatic attention from all corners of the world.
Under the Erdogan government, Turkey has expanded ties with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) since 2011. Turkey participated in the conference of heads of government of CARICOM and, in July 2014, the first foreign ministers meeting of the Turkey-CARICOM consultation and cooperation mechanism took place in Istanbul with the participation of 11 ministers including Guyana and Suriname.
Turkey also regularly meets with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Quartet at the foreign ministers level.