There appears to be a real sense of enthusiasm amongst the leaders of the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association (GMSA) whom this newspaper met with earlier this week to discuss issues affecting the growth and development of the sector. Much of the discussion was centred around the start of what, it has been agreed, will be a series of Inter-Ministerial Round Tables involving the Government of Guyana and the GMSA and as far as this newspaper could tell there appears to be a determination on the part of the GMSA that, going forward, the engagements will serve as a catalyst for enhancing what is not always a particularly convivial relationship.
We found that it was very much the view of Messrs. Shyam Nokta, President; Ramsey Ali, Vice President; and Clem Duncan, Head of the Trade & Investment Sub Committee that the new forum should transcend what, frankly, has been, in large measure, a series of ‘talk shops’ which, over the years, have not yielded nearly enough in terms of meaningful outcomes. We found that the three private sector leaders were perfectly prepared to concede that public/private sector discourses are often cluttered. They wanted, they said, to be part of an agenda, at the Inter-Ministerial Round Table, that would be informed by an agenda concerned directly with the development of the manufacturing sector.
We have been given clearance by the GMSA officials to disclose that at the next Round Table, the assembled government officials can anticipate a proposal for the establishment of a public/private sector partnership to enable the setting up “within the next two to three years” of an agro-processing facility that can convert raw material – fruit, vegetables el al – into “processed food for export.” As articulated by Mr. Ali the facility must be structured to enable modular expansion. He envisages that such a project can enable a radical transformation in the condition of the agro-processing sector over a relatively short period.
There may well be a lot going for such a proposal in circumstances where it would add value to the raw materials (particularly fruit and vegetables) grown here abundantly and either sold or exported in their original state. If this newspaper has done as much (if not more) than the other media houses in promoting the role of the Guyana Marketing Corporation’s Guyana Shop in pushing our agro-produce on the local – and to a lesser extent – overseas market, the fact of the matter is that for all of the hype and hoopla our agro-produce has been largely unable, primarily because of our limited ability to add value, to effectively scale the barriers to successful access to foreign markets.
Setting aside the fact that the idea of a public/private sector initiative to set up an agro-processing facility here could prove decidedly transformational if it can be managed, the point should be made that a project of that type could attract far less counterproductive chatter (at least we hope so) than, for example, reducing taxes on raw material imports for the manufacturing sector though this is not to say that issues pertaining to taxing imports connected with the manufacturing sector is unimportant.
Interestingly, the GMSA officials with whom this newspaper met earlier this week did make the point that agro-produce from countries in our hemisphere – they named Guatemala, Chile and Belize, among others – are able to enjoy far greater access to the North American market precisely because they are equipped with the technology to enhance the quality of our own agro-produce. In other words, there is really no imposing reason why we cannot have such a facility here.
What this newspaper found interesting about its discourse with the private sector officials was what appeared to be a conviction that the Inter-Ministerial Round Table can actually transcend the previous public/private sector exchanges that either never got beyond the ‘talk shop’ stage or else, became so cluttered by politics that the desired outcomes simply never saw the light of day.
Enhancing the capacity of the agro-processing sector to raise its game, earn more for our agro- processors and compete with rival products both on our own home market, in the region and further afield would be a major gain for Guyana from exchanges between government and the GMSA that seek to transform what, up until now has been an environment that has been, in many respects, less than enabling.
The GMSA’s agro-processing facility proposal could alter the climate and take the relationship forward. We strongly believe that the government should listen with a view to taking the idea seriously.