The optimization of the potential of Guyana’s manufacturing sector requires a far more robust and energetic business support organization to effectively serve the interests of local manufacturers, proprietor of Fibre-Tech Industrial Plastics Somat Ali has told the Stabroek Business.
A re-migrant from Canada whose Agriculture Road, Triumph fibre plastics enterprise turned 23 in May this year, Ali said that while he was satisfied that his own enterprise had made a mark both at home and in sections of the international market, he was concerned that the Guyana Manufacturers and Services Association (GMSA) needed to transform itself into “a far more effective lobby group” for the broader business sector.
And according to Ali, one of the biggest failings of the GMSA was its “failure over the years to mobilize small manufacturers.” He said while small manufacturers “probably comprise the bulk of the small business sector” there had been little if any evidence of a serious effort to tackle energetically “the real problems of the sector.”
This is not the first time that Ali, a previous winner of a GMSA performance award has been critical of what he said was “the limited role” the association was playing in furthering the interests of the sector. “It is not a matter of being critical for the sake of being critical. It is simply a matter of being tired of watching the situation drift and saying nothing,” Ali said.
This week, as in previous interviews with this newspaper, Ali decried what he said was an absence of effective pressure from the GMSA to staunch the inflow of
substandard manufactured imports, which compete with locally produced goods to the detriment of the country’s manufacturing sector.
According to Ali, concerns over the unchecked manufactured goods into Guyana “from Asia and elsewhere,” ought not to be seen as a protectionist lobby since it was not a question “of wanting to prevent foreign goods from coming here but of ensuring that the playing field is even.” He said when cheaper raw material and labour costs associated with some foreign imports are set against high production costs and VAT and duties which local manufacturers have to pay, “the local manufacturer begins at an unfair advantage. Free trade cannot be taken to mean that this country must become a dumping ground for cheap imports and the destruction of the country’s manufacturing sector.”
Ali said he wished to see the GMSA playing a more vibrant role as a business support organization, engaging government in strategies designed to ensure the growth and development of the manufacturing sector. In this regard, he alluded to the need to create stronger linkages between manufacturing goods for local consumption and export and the creation of factories for production of such goods. He stated, “There are also possible areas cooperation that have to do seeking out markets, packaging goods and creating the best possible conditions for importing raw materials for the manufacturing sector.”
Ali said he believed the GMSA can play a more assertive role in dealing with the bottlenecks that arise in the course of engagements between businessmen and state agencies. “Businessmen should not have to spend time haggling with state agencies over customs duties and other import procedures. Setting the rules and ensuring enforcement ought to be matters that are settled between the business support organization and the agencies concerned. What the GMSA ought to be doing is facilitating engagements between government and genuine manufacturers to work on policies to drive the sector including the cutting of red tape and the creation of incentives.”
Meanwhile, Ali disclosed that concerns among East Coast Demerara businessmen over the weakness of the current business support lobby had led to discussions among them regarding the likely setting up of a small manufacturers, agro-processors and farmers group to develop a strategy for strengthening those sectors in the absence of meaningful alternative support. “The problem is that while we want to work with the GMSA we understand now that there is need to do more in the interest of these sectors,” Ali said.
And the local manufacturer decried what he said were the costly bureaucratic delays that had come to be associated with satisfying government regulations on the importation of goods into the country. “After 14 days these goods attract demurrage fees and that has nothing to do with the official delays that you encounter,” Ali said.
A one-time active member of the GMSA Ali said he was seeking to re-engage with the association following a hiatus but it was too early to determine what the outcome of that was likely to be. He said part of the objective of the initiative by East Coast businessmen was to get some sort of collaboration going “in an effort to identify common problems and try to come up with solutions. As a group we are prepared to give the GMSA until year end,” Ali added.