Speaker of the National Assembly Bee,
Governor of the Central Bank Roemer,
President of the American Chamber of Commerce
ladies and gentlemen,
I am glad to see so many representatives from the government, the private sector, and experts in this field to discuss issues in the banking and finance sector.
The U.S. Embassy has one objective for Suriname we want Suriname to be a strong, stable, prosperous and democratic partner to the United States.
In short, we support Suriname’s economic growth.
Suriname’s Banking relationships are crucial to that growth.
We have been listening to your concerns.
We hear from local banks that U.S. and international policies may contribute to the difficulty in maintaining correspondent banking relationships.
Indeed, According to an Atlantic Council report,Suriname lost 36% of its correspondent banking relationships between 2011 and 2020.
Suriname is not the only country facing these challenges.
We know that after the 2008 financial crisis, some international banks “de-risked” by curtailing operations in the Caribbean based on perceptions of weak compliance with international standards.
We hear from business people that it is difficult to bank here.
We hear from individuals that it is difficult to buy goods and services from Surinamese businesses using foreign credit cards or mobile payment services.
All of these issues are constraints that make it hard to do business.
Any obstacle that makes it difficult to do business, inhibits economic growth.
Concerns about de-risking were heard in Washington.
In 2020, the U.S. Congress mandated and funded a U.S. government-wide strategy, led by the Treasury Department, to combat de-risking.
Vice President Kamala Harris recognized how problematic de-risking is in the Caribbean during her engagements with Caribbean Prime Ministers starting in April 2022.
As a result, Financial inclusion is a key diplomatic and economic priority for the United States.
It is fundamental to growing sustainable economies, It is fundamental to achieving social safety and it is fundamental to realizing a healthy democracy.
This is the priority we share with Suriname.
We have heard from the highest levels of government that Suriname would like to attract investment from U.S. companies.
We know that you already look for high quality U.S. goods and services.
And Like other countries in the Caribbean, you rely on trade for food, health care, production inputs, tourism, agriculture, and other fields.
And We hope you will continue to choose U.S. business partners.
For our business partnerships to work, it has to be easier to do business here in Suriname
U.S. companies always keep an eye “on the bottom line.”
Anything that takes away from the bottom line
- antiquated land titling regulations,
- delays in getting documents like a residency permit or labor permit,
- and unclear requirements to open a bank account
will push businesses to look for partners elsewhere.
Another significant hinderance to greater prosperity in Suriname is corruption.
U.S. firms are prohibited from participating in corrupt activities under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
We know that transparency and predictability are good for business.
Transparency and predictability are key tools in the fight against corruption.
We are optimistic about Suriname’s future:
the developments in the oil and gas sector present tremendous opportunities for trade.
U.S. firms looking to enter this market will want to partner with local entrepreneurs in a variety of sectors—everything from technical trades to tourism.
But the inability to process transactions via credit or debit cards due to lost correspondent banks or high costs in accessing the U.S. dollar can deter tourists and business executives alike.
If Suriname wants to attract international business, modern payment methods must be accepted.
No more stacks of cash from one ATM.
To do business, both Surinamese and U.S. companies require modern banking services—the legal structures and technology behind the ATM or payment app.
To get there, we brought in some people who understand modern financial infrastructure. That’s what I hope will come out of this week’s sessions.
Ideas about how to modernize the financial infrastructure so Suriname’s vibrant and innovative companies can do more business and help grow this economy.
U.S. financial institutions are independent, as is our central bank, known as The Federal Reserve.
To be clear, the U.S. government cannot mandate that banks open or maintain accounts with specific customers.
And the decision to exit a line of business or terminate a banking relationship resides solely with banks.
However, the United States government wants to help, and is doing its part.
We have a mandate to shape a safer, more transparent, and more accessible financial system, while at the same time maintaining a robust framework to protect it from illicit actors.
To this end, we can help create conditions where U.S. banks and firms will want to work with you.
Financial threats from money launderers, narcotraffickers, terrorists, and other bad actors and the illicit finance they generate are more complex than they’ve ever been.
The global community has a vested commitment in maximizing security and transparency.
Just this week we had a visit focused on helping the Surinamese government comply with some of its commitments to the international community as a member of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and address deficiencies identified in Suriname’s 2022 Mutual Evaluation Report.
We have funded the first National Risk Assessment, a Banking Sector Risk Assessment, and technical assistance to the Financial Intelligence Unit.
We have sent numerous Surinamese government officials to U.S. training on financial crimes since 2018.
We are seeing the results of the difficult economic decisions that Suriname had to take.
Suriname’s macroeconomic situation seems to be stabilizing.
And we are seeing efforts underway to prosecute corruption.
There is still more to do to effectively staff and fund some key regulatory bodies, including the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Gaming Board, and the public prosecutor.
Disrupting and Stopping trafficking in narcotics, illegal gold, protected wildlife, and lumber is critically important to build confidence in this market.
And we will support the efforts of the government of Suriname to that end.
Partnerships with the private sector are also essential in building Suriname’s efforts towards creating an effective, robust anti-money laundering regime that will attract relationships with global banks.
Right now, the impetus is on Surinamese banks and businesses to show that you are good partners in compliance.
This is something that we’re here to help with, but ultimately a choice Suriname must make.
We find ourselves at a critical juncture.
Where the government of Suriname and the Surinamese private sector can work together to achieve common goals:
a vibrant, growing economy that benefits all of Suriname’s citizens; and a secure market in Suriname in which to do business.
I am hopeful that with U.S. support Suriname is moving closer to that goal.