Harmon urges Region Six business community to develop plans for sugar, pursue diversification

The Region Six business community was on Sunday encouraged to develop proposals for the ailing sugar industry, pursue diversification options and invest in technology-driven business ideas.

The call was made by Minister of State Joseph Harmon when he led a ministerial delegation to a Berbice Chamber of Commerce fundraising dinner, held at the New Amsterdam Town Hall.

A release from the Ministry of the Presidency (MotP) last evening said Harmon issued the call to members of the business community in the region to develop proposals for the way forward for the sugar industry over the next six months. He also urged them to pursue options for diversification and to explorenon-traditional sectors and value-added production.

According to the release, Harmon, while noting that government has embarked on a consultative process to determine what are the best options to ensure the viability of the industry, called on stakeholders in the region to be drivers of economic diversification since Guyana cannot continue to rely on what President David Granger calls the six sisters—sugar, rice, timber, bauxite, gold and fish.

Some of the guests at the Berbice Chamber of Commerce’s fundraising dinner listen as Minister of State Joseph Harmon (at lectern) delivers his address (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

“There are greater opportunities that present themselves for businesses individually or working with the workers’ union or workers’ organisations to take the benefit of what is going to happen in the short space of time,” Harmon was quoted as saying.

Harmon, according to the release, added that while it is the government’s responsibility to continue to develop an investment-friendly and more enabling environment for the growth of businesses, it is the responsibility of the private sector to tap into available resources to grow their businesses. Many of the concessions that were placed in the 2017 national budget and resources allocated for Guyanese businesses are yet to be tapped into, Harmon said. Private sector officials were encouraged to recognise Guyana as a single investment space and were called on to bid for contracts as well as invest in other parts of the country. “Step out of the box in which you operate and see that greater opportunities are available for you as business people,” he said.

Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin delivering remarks at the fundraising dinner held by the Berbice Chamber of Commerce at the New Amsterdam Town Hall​ on Sunday night (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin, who also spoke at the event, according to the release, said that when the annual bailouts and investments in sugar are considered against the current price of sugar, it is clear that things cannot continue as they are and Guyana has to expand local manufacturing. “This might be a good time for us to invest more in value-added productive businesses. If your imports aren’t selling, I can guarantee you that Guyanese want to buy local products. Guyanese are proud whenever we put quality local products on the market and this, for us, is a direction that we have been trying to nudge investors towards,” he was quoted as saying.

Minister of Public Telecommunications Catherine Hughes told members of the private sector gathered at the event that embarking on “out of the box” business ideas in the technological sector can result in profitable economic activity. Pointing to the use of robotics, Hughes, the release said, pointed out that numerous possibilities exist in the digitised environment and Guyana is poised to take advantage of the strides being made in Information and Communications Technology.

“I am saying to you that this is how we take traditional agriculture, the traditional things we have done for many years, that are still important to our country, still vital to our people and this is how we take it to another level, to a new generation of technology that we are well-positioned to take advantage of,” she was quoted in the release as saying.

According to the release, newly-elected President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce Ryan Alexander committed the private sector of Region Six to working arduously to seek other opportunities outside of the traditional sectors. He touted the idea of using the vast estate lands for the development of micro-enterprises.

Representatives of the Indian High Commission, members of the Upper and West Berbice Chambers of Commerce and other government officials were in attendance at the event.

The fundraising dinner, according to the release, provided the opportunity for private sector officials to mingle with the ministers and discuss the future of business in the region and how they can work together to push economic development.

Chairman of GuySuCo Dr Clive Thomas had said late last year that in addition to the Rose Hall estate, other estates would soon be diversified.

The sugar industry has been ailing for years now and despite bailouts the decline continues. Under its plans to “scale down” the Guyana Sugar Corporation, government has outlined a scheme to consolidate three estates with three factories that would produce sugar for domestic needs and foreign markets, while divesting the company’s remaining assets, including the Skeldon Estate. Following the closure of the Wales factory last year, there are plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall factories this year. The plans have triggered protests by workers and their unions as well residents in communities in Berbice that directly benefit from the operations of the factories.

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