It was heartening to hear from the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association (GMSA) earlier this week that a group of Canadian businessmen who had come to Guyana on a mission to check out the prospects of buying local farm produce and agro-processed foods, had expressed the view that what they saw in Guyana would probably meet the expectations of the Canadian market.
Encouraging as their assessment may seem, however, it is not reason for celebration since it is no secret that both the United States and Canada have been continually raising their respective food safety bars. Therefore, the encouraging sentiments expressed by a handful of visiting businessmen aside, getting more access to Canadian markets requires that our products be subjected to rigid scientific tests. Even the local manufacturers themselves concede that there is still a lot of work to be done to meet the standards that North America demands.
Based on the post-visit forum report issued by the GMSA, it appears that the Canadian businessmen also had a few tough things to say as far as their assessment of the prospects for the movement of food between Guyana and Canada are concerned.
What the Canadians appear to fear most about importing from Guyana are the risks associated with what is now the commonplace habit of concealing cocaine in just about every fruit or vegetable. In fact, the leader of the visiting delegation told last Friday’s meeting that the delegation ought to have been bigger, but precisely because of drug smuggling concerns a number of Canadian businessmen wanted nothing to do with importing food from Guyana.
All of this comes atop the various other barriers to increased trade with Canada including the fact that whatever the product quality and the price it really makes no sense in even trying if there is no reliable air transport to move those goods, particularly the perishables.
But it is the loss of confidence in the ability of the Guyanese authorities, notably the Customs and the Police Force that is most worrying. The level of mistrust is profound. At last Friday’s meeting, the GRA official present had to respond to questions that had to do with reports that even after containers had been checked and cleared for shipping drug smugglers might still have access to them. Whether or not that is true is hardly the point since even if it isn’t, it is indicative of a lack of trust and confidence in the security systems here that would make long-term, meaningful trade difficult if not impossible.
So it seems that drug smuggling has created its own formidable non-tariff barrier. Even if we can clear those hurdles that have to do with cargo space, customs procedures. reliability of supplies and food safety regulations, when it comes to importing food into Canada we are – for as long as we cannot stem the flow of drugs – still going to have to face the additional barrier of importer trust and confidence.