More than any of the various sectors comprising the Guyana economy, the manufacturing sector had been ‘marking time’ for several years. While all this has been happening the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) has been proving itself adept at creating the impression, principally through its various glitzy public functions, that the sector was doing well, or at least holding its own.
The reality, however, has been different. Much of what was deemed to be part of the manufacturing sector had been relegated mostly to diligent but limited excursions into agro processing that were being executed on a modest scale. In most cases, the produce, whatever it was, could neither satisfy the quality requirements nor the volume demands of external markets though it must be said that there were a few exceptions to that rule.
Simultaneously – and this has been the case for years – small manufacturers continued to complain about constraints to growth and expansion occasioned, variously, by lack of access to investment capital, limited government concessions on equipment and raw material imports and problems associated with the re-tooling of rundown manufacturing operations.
In more recent times, the manufacturing sector has been afflicted by other constraints not least – and particularly in the case of food products – quality-related controls on food importation particularly into North America markets. In the case of Caricom, an assortment of protectionist and often patently contrived measures were created to lock goods produced in Guyana out of those markets.
One should add, incidentally, that the advent of America’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is likely to provide additional challenges for food products manufactured in Guyana and targeting markets in the USA.
The salvation for the country’s manufacturing sector was always likely to lie, largely, in the extent to which it could secure a meaningful partnership with government in pursuit of its goals. One suspects that the limited realization of that objective has, until now, been, in large measure, a function of the larger fracture between government and the private sector which has been extant for the extent of the present political administration and which, up until recently, had shown no signs of getting better.
While allowances must be made for the idiosyncrasies that inform public/private sector relations in Guyana, it is, one hopes, reasonable to assume that the advent of the Inter Ministerial Round Table with the private sector, which includes the Ministers of Finance, Natural Resources, Public Infrastructure and business and several high-profile manufacturing sector officials is indicative of a broader positive shift in the quality of the relationship between government and the private sector as a whole.
The fact that following last Friday’s meeting between the two sides a second meeting was set as early as next Monday points, it seems, to the sense of urgency which both sides attach to moving the process along. Agreement has been reached between the two sides on the creation of a revolving fund with the objective of facilitating the “modernization and re-tooling” of the manufacturing sector.
A key concern, one expects, will be with seeking to revive the high-profile operations in the manufacturing sector which is why, it seems, last Friday’s meeting paid a considerable measure of attention to the timber industry. One might add, at this juncture, whatever is eventually agreed, that account is taken of the need to address the ailments and the limitations of the ago-processing industry which, in some respects, has managed to survive and even to grow in the face of challenging circumstances.
The government, it has to be said, needs to do more. It understands only too well that if the objectives of the Round Table are realized there will be, among other things, job-creation accomplishments that well help add to its political capital in the period leading to the 2020 general elections. This is, as much as anything else, a political initiative on the part of the administration and in that regard it will presumably want to ensure that small stakeholders in the sector as much as big ones, benefit.
The GMSA’s interests as far as the Round Table is concerned clearly go beyond the revolving fund and into areas that include, a priori, the effects of the value added tax on the cost on imported material for the manufacturing sector. That should provide the two sides for an extended agenda out of which can hopefully come a wider improved public/private sector relationship.