Last week, an official of the Chinese Embassy in Georgetown made the rather interesting revelation at a forum organized by the Guyana Manufacturers and Services Association (GMSA) to the effect that some enterprises in China advertising themselves as suppliers of Chinese goods were in fact con artists who dupe buyers into making full or partial ‘up front’ payments for goods then simply fail to deliver.
This newspaper is aware of at least one person who sought to do a modest amount of business with a company in China but failed to receive the goods that had been ordered through a website after making an advance payment to the company concerned. On the other hand, we note that other merchants have had a different experience so that it would be far from fair to say that roguery is the general rule. Then again the Chinese Embassy official did issue a warning to local businessmen to avoid some sites which suggests that these – or at least some of them ‒ may be known to the authorities in China.
China, of course, is not exactly around the proverbial corner. When you add to that the differences of language and commercial culture the difficulties associated with doing business with such a distant and different country are obvious. China, however, is currently the world’s most aggressive exporter. Add to that the fact that several categories of Chinese consumer goods are sold at very competitive prices and one can understand why that country is a preferred target for imports among Guyanese merchants.
The Chinese embassy official also suggested that hopping on a plane to China was the preferred option for Guyanese businessmen. Some of our more prominent entrepreneurs have made trips to China both on their own and as part of official delegations during the Jagdeo administration. That, however, is hardly an option for the numerous small businesses that are keen to do limited trading with China.
While China and Guyana have had diplomatic ties since 1972, trading ties have been limited overwhelmingly to one-way trade since Guyana has been unable to secure any really meaningful markets in China. That remains the case to this day.
While we are on the subject of bilateral trade between Guyana and China we need to remind ourselves that local consumers have had numerous problems with the quality of some of the Chinese goods imported into Guyana. Perhaps more pertinently, the authorities have been largely unable to protect Guyanese consumers from sub-standard Chinese goods.
The revelation by the Chinese diplomat regarding the existence of rogue traders came as a surprise to this newspaper since one would have thought that the Chinese would have taken internal measures to rein in those ‘seedy’ enterprises that would obviously damage the country’s image abroad. The other point is that given the volume of Chinese goods that have been imported into Guyana for some years now, there is really no excuse for the lack of strong measures designed to remove these anomalies that inhere in trading with China.
The current rapid expansion of China’s trade with the rest of the world is a function of an ultra-aggressive foreign policy that seeks to broaden its economic sphere of influence. Governments in the region that have opened their doors to Chinese imports have been rewarded with grants, loans and significant investments. If you ask the small business community, however, they are far more critical of what they consider to be an official open posture towards the Chinese that lacks strong mechanisms for monitoring the trading practices of some Chinese merchants.
Small clothing and costume jewellery manufacturers and traders also fret about the threats posed to their own modest enterprises by the volumes of cheaper Chinese imports.
To return to the subject of what the Chinese diplomat had to say last week, it is worth wondering aloud as to whether it is not the responsibility of the Government of Guyana to ensure that the protocols and procedures associated with importing goods from China are made available to the local business support organizations. More than that should we not become deeply concerned when the GNBS concedes that in the cases of some categories of Chinese goods there are no pre-existing standards against which to judge them?
The point about all this is that while ultra-protectionist practices are frowned upon by the international trading community and we cannot build barriers against foreign imports whilst ourselves seeking markets for our exports, the government here has an overarching responsibility to protect both the local business community and consumers from malpractices and poor quality imports. What we also need to think seriously about is the debilitating impact of some Chinese imports on some of our traditional cottage industries and the attendant loss of earnings among ordinary Guyanese. Again, as in so many other instances, the private sector business support organizations – particularly the GMSA ‒ remain virtually silent on these issues even though they have a direct bearing on the state of health of the business community and the country’s economy as a whole.