Few ‘local’ manufacturers at Berbice Expo

- Central Corentyne Chamber President

President of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce Leekha Rambrich is the first to admit that last weekend’s Tenth Berbice Expo held at the Albion Sports Complex may have fallen considerably short of the chamber’s and his own expectations.

The event may not have been an altogether forgettable one, but its outcomes fell considerably short of the high standards which the Berbice business community has set itself. Concerns over the likely eventual impact of the current travails of a sugar industry upon which Berbice

President Donald Ramotar (second from left) with exhibitors at the 9th annual Berbice Expo (GINA photo)
President Donald Ramotar (second from left) with exhibitors at the 9th annual Berbice Expo (GINA photo)

has depended for jobs over the years may be an issue at this time, but the private sector, particularly the rice industry and what appears to be a growing commercial sector are increasingly asserting themselves in the region’s economy.

Without quite openly admittedly it, businessmen in Berbice drop a broad hint that they expect their annual commercial exposition to rival Georgetown’s GuyExpo. Rambrich understands, however, that to do so the Berbice Expo must plan diligently and, equally importantly, market itself aggressively. This year, its quest to attract local, regional and international exhibitors to the event while leaving room for Berbice to show off the strides that it has made in the manufacturing, agriculture and agro-business sectors secured the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. Still, it appeared to fall short of expectations, though not so as far as public attendance was concerned.

The Berbice Expo, like its counterpart event in the capital, has enthusiastically embraced an entertainment dimension. This year, there was evidence of significant numbers in attendance though the question lingers as to whether the fairground atmosphere does not – as in the case of GuyExpo – detract from the substantive purpose of the event.

As far as showcasing the robustness of the economy of the ‘Ancient County’ is concerned the event cannot be given any more than a modest mark. Not that there was a paucity of exhibitors. Berbice’s rice giant Nand Persaud & Company was there as was NPG Packaging and the Guyana Sugar Corporation. Some of the major Georgetown business enterprises including the Beharry Group of Companies, Neal and Massy and the National Milling Company (NAMILCO) journeyed to Berbice for the event. Republic and Demerara Banks were there too as was an assortment of manufacturers of craft, clothing and beverages from as far away as Region Nine.

What, it seemed, mostly disappointed the Central Corentyne Chamber Chairman was the fact that the surfeit of “local businesses” of “high quality furniture” were mostly a no show at the event. The Central Corentyne Chamber President himself made that point though he could only surmise that their absence might be accounted for by the fact that having secured lucrative markets in Georgetown for their furniture they may well not see the Berbice Expo as holding any significant marketing benefit for them. Still, Rambrich says that beyond the marketing aspect of the event it would have been satisfying to the Chamber to see a greater measure of meaningful commercial representation at the Berbice Expo from the business enterprises in Berbice.  “Sometimes we tend not to think down the road to the next ten years. Perhaps we look at things much more in the short term,” Rambrich says.

Namilco products on sale at Berbice Expo.
Namilco products on sale at Berbice Expo.

Perhaps only less surprising was the fact that this year there was no representation at the Berbice Expo from neighbouring countries. Suriname, particularly, enjoys a brisk and reportedly growing trading relationship with Berbice. This year, Rambrich said, invitations to participate in the event were dispatched to Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname through their respective diplomatic missions in Georgetown. Subsequently the Central Corentyne Chamber received responses from a few business houses in each of those countries. However, all of them subsequently informed the organisers that they would be unable to participate in the event. Suriname’s non-participation, particularly, was a disappointment. The Chamber proposes to deal directly with selected business enterprises in the neighbouring territories next year.

Event organiser Taijpaul Adjodea says that the Berbice Expo can take pride in the fact that over the years it has served as a launching pad for various business enterprises which have since grown and become successful. More than that, he points to the fact that it means that it can still attract some important exhibits. At this year’s event, three of the largest companies participating in the event, Neal and Massy, Nand Persaud & Company and Genequip were using the opportunity to showcase tractors and other pieces of equipment that are available to rice farmers. Neal and Massy displayed the Massey Ferguson brand; Genequip, the John Deere brand and Nand Persaud & Company, a new brand known as the Europard 504.

Last weekend the small and micro participants – mostly handicraft, clothing and modest agro-products – were counting their blessings while conceding that business was “slow”. Attendees, it seemed, were focused on entertaining themselves rather than engaging in any significant spending. If no one appears to be dwelling on it, the fortunes of sugar and the implications for the Berbice economy may well have triggered a measure of conservative spending. As is customarily the case with GuyExpo, however, the games and food stalls appeared to have done brisk business.

Rambrich dropped a broad hint that the outcomes of this year’s Berbice Expo will probably take the local business community back to the drawing board. One of the challenges, he says, will be to find ways of ensuring that greater numbers of Berbice businesses, particularly those in the manufacturing sector, participate in the event. Beyond that, the chamber is hoping to develop more effective mechanisms for further strengthening cross-border links with the business communities in Brazil, Venezuela and, particularly Suriname. They have a year in which to better the 2013 Berbice Expo showing.





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