GuyExpo and small entrepreneurs

Earlier this week during an event held to mark the launch of GuyExpo 2011, President Bharrat Jagdeo commented on the role that the annual product promotion event plays in providing a platform for the country’s small businesses to highlight their products and services.

It is true that every year scores of small businesses go to the expense and the trouble of setting out their respective stalls at GuyExpo aware as they are that the high-profile promotion from which the event benefits for several weeks before it is actually staged provides an excellent guarantee that it will attract large numbers of people some of whom may well be interested in what they have to offer.

Over the years too, Go-Invest has been providing the related service of seeking to put people and enterprises together during the Go-Invest season with a view to facilitating possible synergistic arrangements that might redound to the benefit of both, though at the end of the GuyExpo period little comprehensive information is publicly available regarding the extent to which small businesses benefit from such arrangements.

One of the grouses that have been raised by some small businesses has to do with the extent to which the focus on entertainment as a facet of GuyExpo distracts from the central purpose of the event. There are mixed views on that grouse since there is considerable evidence of public approval of the mix of entertainment and entrepreneurial pursuits that combine to form GuyExpo. Another grouse has to do with the fact that large manufacturing entities from outside the country and outside the region for that matter are invited to bring their products to Guyana to compete with local products. The argument has been made particularly in the wood products industry, including the furniture sub-sector. Again, one might respond that the global focus on the removal of trade barriers and the focus on competition now supersedes the protectionist culture of an earlier era though one sometimes questions whether in fact our own small businesses are really participating on a level playing field with some of the bigger invited companies.

One particularly interesting aspect of GuyExpo is the role that it supposedly plays in advancing the objectives of the Caribbean Single Market (CSM) by bringing buyers, sellers and potential joint investors together. In that sense it is always good to see large contingents of Caribbean representatives at GuyExpo though, again, we are invariably unable to follow the progress of the outcomes of whatever collaboration ensues between them and our local businesses.

Beyond highlighting their products and services, which is how the Chronicle headline put it, one wonders how much further benefit derives for the vast majority of “small entrepreneurs” from GuyExpo. In the absence of available information we concede that we are unaware of how many small businesses have been able, for example, to secure lucrative post-GuyExpo local or regional markets for their products or how many of them have succeeded in closing joint-venture deals that enable their growth and expansion.

On the other hand, what we can point to is available evidence of a kind of stagnation in the growth of facilities for the expansion of the small business sector, evidenced particularly in the government’s protracted failure to implement the provisions of the Small Business Act, which is now more than ten years old and which, in some respects, can serve as a useful instrument for supporting the growth of the sector in various ways, including, of course, financing and business services. That apart, there is little evidence that the various private sector umbrella bodies have moved to embrace the small business sector in the wake of what now appears to have been the complete disappearance of the Guyana Small Business Association (GSBA) the usefulness of which has long been questionable anyway.

Interestingly, we are at a juncture where there is some evidence of an effort by the small business sector to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, to seek to make a more prominent mark on both the local and international markets and to begin to address considerations like product presentation and product promotion which are important for market entry. That effort is particularly in evidence in the local craft and food and beverage production sectors.

The point about all this is that while President Jagdeo’s assertion about the lure of GuyExpo for small businesses may be true, the real issue is whether, beyond displaying their offerings at Sophia for a few days, they derive any long-term benefits from being there. The answer to that question probably lies in reports in the possession of Go-Invest and that is not where they ought to be. They ought to be in the public domain. That is the only way that we can make a relevant and informed assessment of the President’s pronouncement.

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