It is incomprehensible that the government here was given notification by the US government in November, 2015 of new regulations for Siluriformes (catfish) and failed to take all of the required steps to enable continued exports from Guyana. The clear malingering and negligence of the administration has led to exporters of catfish having to dump shipments and count their losses.
Which officials in the ministries of public health and agriculture were aware of this admonition from Washington in November, 2015 and what did they do about it? It is easy to see how the dizzying preoccupation with the inchoate oil and gas industry can severely undermine important administrative tasks. No matter what oil delivers, if at the simplest of levels public servants and their respective ministers cannot execute crucial reforms related to the export economy then the grief that shadows oil economies will surely be upon us.
President Granger routinely comes across as the invisible President – shunning press conferences and not deeply engaged in any of the major domestic issues except for the Venezuela border controversy. At tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, he should seek to determine which minister and ministry official should take responsibility for the disgraceful failure to meet the requirements and to ascertain what else needs to be done to ensure all of the key provisions of the US Food Safety Modernization Act have been taken into account to ensure that Guyana’s exports to the US have the best chance of entering that market unimpeded.
Economic diplomacy should be at the vanguard of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ mandate but what sense would it make if we ourselves fluff our chances of entering a vital market like the US. Is the Foreign Ministry fully engaged in dialogue with the line ministries in the export sector?
To top it all off, according to the US Embassy, Washington had offered technical assistance to help make Guyana compliant in relation to the new regulations pertaining to siluriformes. Why this offer of assistance was not tapped should also be explained by the government to the affected fish exporters and the public.
The bungling by Guyana is also reflected deeply in the general performance of the government. While it now seems to have been abandoned, for several months the government and GuySuCo tried to convince former Wales sugar estate workers that there was a future for them in integrated aquaculture on the former Wales estate lands. Aquaculture was also presented as a possible source of foreign exchange earnings. How could this thrust be reconciled with the non-compliance with the requirements for catfish exports? Catfish exporters who would have been accustomed to earning foreign exchange in the US market now have to look elsewhere or will incur substantial losses.
While the administration has hired substantial numbers of persons in public relations and marketing roles, it is unclear if it has examined the performance of units integrally linked to export markets in the Agriculture Ministry and other ministries. Is the Fisheries Division of the ministry as presently constituted equipped to discharge its responsibilities?
To be acutely aware of the threats to local exports, the Fisheries Division has to be perfectly in touch with the trends and latest decisions of the World Trade Organisation and most importantly changes in the domestic law of countries that Guyana exports to.
The administration and its public servants must get their act together as it relates to agriculture. The ongoing dissonance in the proposed board for the Guyana Sugar Corporation is another example of fragmentation and also poor decision-making in the government. As always, the people who suffer the most are the average man and in the street struggling to make a living.