Next week’s (September 19-22) inaugural Guyana Trade & Investment Exposition (GUYTIE) marks the most recent attempt to draw external attention to such goods and services as are available for marketing to the outside world. Accidental or otherwise, the timing of the event is probably as good as it can be. Perusal of the list of ‘buyers’ for the event suggests that their motive goes beyond GUYTIE’s substantive purpose. There is little doubt that many, perhaps most of the visitors are taking advantage of the event to ‘check out’ such broader opportunities as may exist in this the ‘season’ of oil and gas and everything that it portends for the economic future of Guyana. In fact, some of the companies due to arrive here have already indicated – even it not always in so many words – that oil and-gas related considerations are the principal reasons for them making the trip. There are, as well, a fair few Korean entities that will be visiting for GUYTIE and even a cursory glance at their profiles suggest that buying what Guyana has to sell at this time may not necessarily be their substantive concern.
Several Caribbean and some North American and European companies are coming to Guyana for GUYTIE and their indicated range of interests point, it seems, to what, finally is a recognition of Guyana’s worth as a country that has the potential to offer the region, North America and Europe more, particularly a range of agricultural, manufactured and other products.
Accessing lucrative markets for fresh foods and agro produce is a battle that we have been fighting for years and here again our oil discovery has done for us what our assorted lobbies over the years have failed to do, that is, to get us the kind of attention that is necessary to put us on the global economic map, so to speak.
All of this points to the virtue of the earnest urging that an oil and gas economy does not entice us into doing away with our strong tradition in the agricultural sector and, moreover, that we are encouraged by this development to do more to grow a stronger agricultural sector where Local Content opportunities exist. This is where the need for investment to be directed towards the creation of the requisite infrastructure to grow strong agricultural and manufacturing sectors come in. Both require heavy investment in technology and we have not done nearly enough over the years as far as spending on technology is concerned. Over time, local businesses have pointed, justifiably, to government’s failure to provide a reliable and cost-effective infrastructure to support both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, not least, cheaper, more reliable electricity. That is a discourse that has gone on for far too long without a solution being found.
The point to be made about cheaper, more reliable electricity at this juncture is that government has to understand that if the efforts to persuade foreign ‘buyers’ to pay an interest in Guyana is to be realized then the enhancement of our manufacturing sector must, of necessity, be buttressed by a complete overhaul of the country’s electricity infrastructure. Otherwise, we are on a hiding to nowhere.
It is true that GuyExpo – which, in a sense, GUYTIE is intended to replace – fell short of expectations insofar as bringing foreign buyers to Guyana is concerned. In some respects, however, GuyExpo remains a perfectly useful brand, not only on account of the opportunity it affords local small businesses to enjoy their biggest ‘one-off’ market opportunity but also given its potential to bring buyers, ideally wholesalers and sellers together. Here, the product-promotion opportunities are obvious.
To return to GUYTIE, however, there is a bit more that has to be said. If, indeed, the intention is to attract enhanced external interest in what Guyana has to offer then, locally, there is a great deal more work that remains to be done. Our competitiveness is, in large measure, a function of the quality of goods that we produce and here there is, in some sectors, a glaring need for considerable improvement in several areas of the production and presentation processes. The hurly burly of contemporary international competition means that such goods and services as we offer the rest of the world will be given short shrift if they do not measure up to the high quality standards which buyers would have set themselves. In the instance of food products it will of course be necessary that what we offer to the rest of the world measure up to the various health-related standards which, these days, are embedded in the laws of every country that can be described as possessing a potentially lucrative market. There are some other considerations too……like reliable supplies and other areas where Guyana, in the past has been weighed and found wanting. Here, one might add that given the health-related considerations which, these days, underpin countries’ food imports policies, our prospects for accessing lucrative markets are dismal (here, the strictures of the USA’s Food Safety Modernization Act come to mind) unless early measures are taken to significantly enhance the level of the testing standards which our local Food & Drugs Department can deliver at this time.
GUYTIE, for the moment, is at best a testing ground for determining the receptivity of the wider international market to such goods and services as we have to offer. Visiting ’buyers’ will not only be engaging local companies with a view to determining whether they can be reliable ‘partners’ in the business of buying and selling. They will also have a concern with the conviviality of doing business in Guyana including the extent to which the formidable red tape associated with getting important business-related transactions has been reduced. The outcomes of the GUYTIE event, therefore, will depend on much more than what transpires at the Marriott next week.