A recent US$5M investment in Trinidad by condiments and sauces producer, Baron Foods should have been Guyana’s venture but owner Ronald Ramjattan believes politics got into the way and he was forced to turn to the Twin-Island Republic.
However, Ramjattan is still hoping that he will soon get the land here he wishes to lease and that his dream of bringing his business to the country of his birth will soon be a reality.
“I did six, yes six, applications under the last govnerment and I want to think that it is because of Khemraj (Ramjattan, Minister of Public Security) that I never got through,” he told the Sunday Stabroek in an interview via telephone. The Minister of Public Security is Ronald Ramjattan’s cousin. Khemraj Ramjattan was a fierce opponent of the previous government.
Last month, Baron Foods, which was founded by Ramjattan over twenty years ago opened a US$5M manufacturing facility in Chaguanas, Trinidad employing over 50 locals.
Ramjattan told Stabroek News that it was a bittersweet moment for him because it was the third country in the Caribbean, St Lucia and Grenada being the two others, where his company was investing and he believes it should have been in his home country.
“Guyana could have taken up the offer but politics has a say in the outcome. I did not ask for much. I submitted to the then government a detailed investment proposal and asked for three to five acres to lease, not to be given free, so that I can build the factory,” he explained.
“I submitted applications six times. I would have leased the land and built the factory …and even after they heard that Baron was winning awards and investing in the other islands…nothing,” he added.
He said that after exhaustive waits and feelings of frustration he approached the Trinidad and Tobago government and the result is the US$5M investment.
Ramjattan was born in Guyana and worked here for a number of years before migrating to St Lucia where the company’s corporate office is now located and where he resides.
“It was around November 1991 and I was working here (in St Lucia). I had left home after I got an offer to go work in another country and because a lot of things were happening here at the time, I went. Things were very hard. So after living in St Lucia I am a chemist by profession and I like experimenting with flavours and so on so that is how Baron started,” he said.
Starting on a small scale, employing 23 persons and with knowledge from working in a similar industry in Guyana, the St Lucia company now employs over 100 persons and produces more than 100 different products. Nearly half of its products are exported regionally and internationally.
A profile of the company says that it produces a range of condiments and beverages which include exotic sauces, spices and drink cocktails.
Several of their products have won International awards in North America and Europe and the company has been named Manufacturer of the Year by the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce and the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association for several years in succession.
Ramjattan himself has won the coveted Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
But the businessman said that his achievements to date are not enough as he still has his dream of setting up a factory here.
And when the APNU+AFC government took office in 2015 he submitted another proposal asking for three to five acres near the capital to invest and build his factory.
He said that his cousin made clear to him that while government is looking for investors and welcomes investment, he will not be given any special treatment and as such has had to go through the same process as everyone.
But unlike the non-responses to his six applications under the PPP/C government, this government, he said, wrote to him and told him that they did not have the land that he wants to lease at the moment but that his application was being looked at.
“Unlike then I did receive a response from government. They basically said that the land and areas I am interested in leasing are already given away but they are still trying,” he said.
While disappointed he believes that in time he will get the lands needed but he could not sit and wait on Guyana and as such he turned to Trinidad.
“When governments and private sectors sit on their laurels nothing happens. You do not play politics with business and investment,” he said.
“Look at Grenada. I opened a production in Grenada when there was a hurricane. I approached that government they were favourable and we were able to set up within six months in Grenada. You see the difference? ,” he added.
Ramjattan said that his proposal shows that he doesn’t want much lands and was not interested in farming because he believes that having locals supply your factory needs creates jobs and revenues in the agriculture sector and also safeguards him from having to go into actual farming.
“I do not want to go into farming. Look at our set up you will see I contract farmers and they supply the needs. Everything we need can be grown right here so there is no need for me to get myself in that. If I grow crops then I have to deal the issue of people stealing, tending the crops and all of that. Look, I am no farmer, I am an agro processor and let me do what I do best and let the farmers do what they do best,” he posited.
“In St Lucia we contract 60 farmers and they supply us. Guyana has everything right there already so no need for me to get into that. I know that in Guyana access to the things I need, whatever it is, is right there,” he added.
In Trinidad the same model using local farmers to supply is used. The company also already has an established arrangement with Trinidad company, Carib Glassworks Ltd which supplies its bottles and its labels come from Label House Group Ltd.
The Baron CEO is looking for a place to set up his factory near Georgetown because he said that it will also be an ease on local farmers to bring their produce to one spot that most are already used to. He said that way he will be able to purchase from many farmers since most already bring their produce for sale in the capital.
A location near the city will also be accessible to ports where the company will have to go to export its goods. “The further you go away from the city is the more it costs you,” he said.
He added that the Linden-Soesdyke Highway was mentioned to him as an ideal place to set up but because of the setbacks he previously mentioned, he has decided to wait.
Ramjattan is hoping that his wait would not be lengthy as he eagerly awaits the establishment of a Baron Foods Guyana factory.