This year’s GuyExpo which takes place from October 3 to 6 will likely attract the customary throngs of visitors to the Sophia Exhibition Site, most of whom will expect to be provided with some measure of entertainment.
The organisers, in our view, have demonstrated a historical ambivalence about just what they want GuyExpo to be and the upshot of that uncertainty is that the event has sought—unsuccessfully, in our view—to be all things to all people. That is to say one the one hand it has provided sufficient entertainment to attract the large crowds that have become the centrepiece of the event. On the other hand, the sheer numbers of people that swarm the exhibition booths, make it difficult to create what one might call a trade fair-friendly environment.
This is by no means a criticism, per se, of what GuyExpo has sought to be. We believe, for example, that an event of the stature of GuyExpo ought to provide both an ‘outing’ for visitors to the event who can catch a glimpse of the local and foreign products on display at Sophia, while still fulfilling its role as an important trade fair. It is, we believe, a matter of organisation including what, admittedly, is the challenging task of managing the crowds that attend GuyExpo. One can argue, of course, that the organisers have had more than enough time to address that challenge.
What has perhaps attracted the most plaudits over the years for GuyExpo has been its role in providing the small and micro business enterprises with a sizeable but decidedly short-term market for their goods. And while it may be that longer-term business arrangements might result from those initial encounters, we certainly do not hear about too many such outcomes.
On the whole, the manufacturing sector has not done that well out of GuyExpo over the years. The litany of challenges confronting the manufacturing sector are simply too numerous to count. Suffice it to say that in its condition of substantive weakness, the sector is not particularly well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities GuyExpo might offer.
A handful of representatives from sister Caricom countries come to GuyExpo, presumably in the hope of creating bilateral trading relationships with Guyanese counterparts. It would be interesting to be able to determine how many of these attempts have fructified into successful ventures over the years.
This year, the rhetoric regarding our expectations of GuyExpo has been pretty much the same. The throngs of Guyanese expecting to be entertained will be there as will the small business owners—mostly craftspeople—anticipating a windfall. The local commercial giants will be there too, as much in shows of support as out of any real commercial interest.
We are told too that there will be more Caricom representation this year; that there will also be some amount of extra-regional representation and that, unsurprisingly, the Chinese will have the single largest number of booths at Sophia this year. Mind you, there have been occasions, in some previous years when some countries that had been expected to be at GuyExpo simply never showed up.
It is apposite to make the point too that this year, GuyExpo will be helping to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association (GMSA). However, though auspicious the occasion it would be hard to find any really solid accomplishment that the sector can celebrate.
Our manufacturing sector is hamstrung by problems associated mostly with the high cost of power, the underdevelopment of our labelling and packaging industries, retarded marketing strategies that place limits on our exports and the inability to compete effectively on international markets in terms of price and quality. To these we may soon have to add additional barriers to exporting locally manufactured food products to the US on account of the restrictive measures imposed by America’s Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA).
The point to make about GuyExpo at this juncture is that there is little if anything to suggest that at the organisational level anything will be done to try to shift the focus of the event closer to its envisaged goals, which include the creation of new local and external markets as well as, where possible, the acceleration of long-term trade ties at the regional and extra-regional levels.
For all these reasons we should, perhaps, be viewing GuyExpo differently this year. In this context we share the view expressed by one of the officials responsible for putting the event together that it will assume a genuine trade show orientation and that it will provide more opportunity for fostering business links among the participating entities. That, of course, is easier said than done.
If the event is indeed to be the country’s premier trade show the planning should include bringing buyers and sellers together, not just for one-off exchanges of goods and money but to facilitate the creation of relationships that serve as building blocks for the promoting local industry, creating jobs, expanding markets and enhancing the country’s economy.