The manufacturing sector: Time for the GMSA to step up to the plate

This newspaper has been doing as much as any other section of the media to publicise the manufacturing sector, its challenges and such accomplishments as it has realized.

A great deal of the information we publish has been gleaned from interviews with some of the country’s manufacturers, particularly those in the agro-processing sector. At the same time, we remain aware of the pursuits of those entities that might be described as the bigger players in the sector, like Banks DIH Ltd, Demerara Distillers Ltd, Beharry Group of Companies and Sterling Products that have made a mark in the beverages and food-processing subsectors and whose products have also found their way onto the international market and are in demand here in the region and amongst the Diaspora.

In recent months we have accelerated our coverage of the manufacturing sector, focusing on both the emerging entities that are beginning to find their way on the local and—to a lesser extent—the international market, and some of those small and micro-producers that continue to encounter challenges that have to do mostly, though not exclusively, with access to capital and technology and whose pursuits, in far too many cases, are not attended by a corresponding level of business savvy.

It is not as if there have not been some steps in the right direction. The Guyana Marketing Corporation’s Guyana Shop, for example, has been doing its bit to help link local producers to overseas markets and to provide display and trading space for locally produced manufactured products. Visits to the Guyana Shop reveal that there are still flaws in the products placed on the market, that have to do mostly with packaging and labelling. Here again it is mostly a matter of cost and know-how. It should be said, of course, that in recent years some entities have emerged to focus on training in these areas. Meanwhile, the din over what small manufacturers said was the indifference of commercial banks to their financial needs is no longer as audible as it used to be. Some of the commercial banks have been going to some trouble in recent times to hitch their sails to the mast of the manufacturing sector.

The traditional headaches like high electricity costs and the inability to finance viable manufacturing entities remain with us so that over a protracted period of time the advancements in the sector have been less than impressive. It is not that there has not been some evidence of effort and result arising out of the diligence and determination particularly amongst the small operators, but, truth be told, the corresponding institutional support is lacking, whether from government or from the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association (GMSA). Our own personal experience of the GMSA is that it has been less than responsive to formal approaches that we have made to it to address issues that have arisen in the sector. Meanwhile, we certainly do not get a sense that the Association is closely engaged with local manufacturers across the board and more particularly with smaller manufacturers.

To its credit the manufacturing sector soldiers on even though it has to be said that its challenges continue to mount. What is now clear, for example, is that the international competitiveness of most our manufactured food products will—at least in the short to medium term—continue to struggle to find widespread acceptance on the global market, the difficulty being the challenges associated with product presentation that speaks to the issue of customer appeal. If there is evidence that some initiatives are being taken to address this problem, the proof that manifests itself in the level of product appeal in imported food products suggests that we are still a considerable distance behind. Here, we would suggest that this is an area in which the GMSA can be far more active.

In the medium to long term the biggest challenge to growing the export market for locally manufactured food products has to do with the ever higher mountain that local manufacturers have to climb in terms of attention to quality standards. Both the United States and Canada continue to be increasingly stringent in their insistence that food imports into their respective countries meet certain minimum quality standards and the focus of their legislation of across-the-board inspections and imposing import restrictions in cases where there is evidence of a lack of compliance with the set standards could hit the local manufacturing sector hard. Again, it is apposite to point out that both government and the GMSA have displayed what certainly appears to be a healthy measure of indifference in this issue.

It is not only in the area of manufactured foods that the sector has been found wanting. There are current issues relating to external competition facing value-added producers in the timber sector and taxes on raw material imports for production in other areas. Here, one does not get the impression that the GMSA has been sufficiently energetic in tackling these issues and the views of some manufacturers—as communicated to this newspaper in some instances—continue to reflect a healthy measure of frustration with the performance of the association.

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