The idea behind last week’s Guyana Trade and Investment Exhibition (GuyTIE) event at the Marriott Hotel as far as the public/private sector organizers had said some weeks ago was, in the main, to bring together, overseas buyers and local sellers in business to business (B2B) encounters with the hoped-for outcome of expanding regional and global market access for goods and services offered here in Guyana. That is what the organizers said was their foremost priority.
Up until now, not nearly enough has been done, either by government or the private sector to successfully seek out external (regional or international markets) for locally produced goods with any marked success. It is fair to say, incidentally, that the Government of Guyana’s economic diplomacy initiative, touted over many years, has not made any real mark in successfully promoting the host of relatively new, mostly food products that continue to be produced in Guyana and that is despite what one assumes are the market opportunities that exist in a fair-sized diaspora.
Nor for that matter – and for one reason or another – have our small businesses, in the majority of instances, proven themselves capable of living with the pace of what would be demanded of them if they are to stay in the race to secure and sustain such external market interest as their products might attract. The reasons for this deficiency are, of course, well known and admittedly, is, in most instances, outside of the control of small, under-resourced enterprises.
The staging of GuyTIE coincided with the significant boost in international attention afforded Guyana (as a location for trade and travel and a country of wider general interest) following its oil discovery in 2015 so that perhaps in a manner that the organizers may not necessarily have expected, the event, apart from attracting external business enterprises – mostly from the Caribbean – with genuine trading interests also witnessed the presence of companies seeking to ‘mark their names’ – so to speak – in Guyana, an example of this between the Republic of Korea’s state-run entity KOTRA, the 56-year-old state-run entity whose key missions include providing full support for the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises in their pursuit of overseas markets and new opportunities for global expansion. Through its engagement with KOTRA the Stabroek News found out that representation from the entity at GuyTIE came from its office in Venezuela and that its visit here was focused on promoting more than a dozen Korean companies interested in doing business in Guyana. So that while the visit of the Korean entity for GuyTIE may not have resulted in the realization of any concrete trade deals, the stated reason for their presence here points to a heightened level of interest in Guyana as, potentially, a place to do business in the future.
There were other foreign visitors who came for GuyTIE (we were told that the internationally renowned Jamaican entity Grace-Kennedy came as originally announced but spent only one day which meant that we were unable to determine the specific purpose and outcomes of the visit) though, perhaps not surprisingly, on the whole, GuyTIE appeared to be much more a matter of establishing contacts and agreeing on follow-up arrangements rather than, in most cases, signing off on any concrete agreements.
In the fullness of time, and we hope that this would be sooner rather than later, the organizers of GuyTIE, including the Ministry of Business and its various executing arms, should provide a full and coherent report on the outcomes of the event including the number of both local and external participants therein as well as the specific outcomes, be those actual market breakthroughs, signing of concrete trade agreements or serious expressions of interest that offer real hope of fructifying in the short term. Here, it has to be said that it would be counterproductive if having gone to the trouble of putting the GuyTIE event together, the Ministry of Business neglects to carefully put together and make public, in good time, a detailed and accurate report on the outcomes of GuyTIE addressing the specifics of both the local and overseas participation (as distinct from those entities that had been listed to be there in the first place) as well as a description of those important encounters of the various engagements and their intended/anticipated outcomes. Those outcomes must be specifically evaluated against the backdrop of the goals which GuyTIE set itself in the first place. That is the only way that we can make an informed assessment of its success or otherwise.
One hopes, for example, that such a report would include an account of the experience of the eight small businesses whose appearance at GuyTIE was engineered by the Small Business Bureau (SBB) and some of which have actually been able to secure arrangements to visit locations in the Caribbean and Canada by visiting businesses entities interested in their various locally manufactured condiments and cosmetics. What is interesting about this development is the lie it gives to a line that had been peddled prior to the staging of GuyTIE that it was not an affair for small businesses. The focused attention paid to the product displays by those eight (all women-run) small businesses by visiting delegations as well as their interaction with local visitors to the event could well result in a serious re-evaluation of the export potential of locally manufactured products -particularly spices and condiments – by the small business sector. Certainly, it would appear from some of the outcomes of the GuyTIE engagements that there could be potential for joint ventures between local and foreign business enterprises that might place some of our many struggling small businesses on a much sounder footing.
What the local small businesses that participated in GuyTIE conceded was that being there persuaded them of the need to raise their game, to find ways of enhancing the efficiency of their operations, increasing volumes as far as production is concerned, devising and implementing more efficient marketing strategies and continuing to improve their product presentation.
One expects that at least some hard outcomes would have emerged from the various other bilateral engagements, the business to business meetings out of which, insofar as there were any, agreements may have been reached. It is those that will be really important as far as properly evaluating the outcomes of the event is concerned. Given the level of expectation that had developed during the promotional phase of GuyTIE the organizers must now demonstrate, through frank, detailed, accurate and crucially, timely reporting that the staging of the event was more than worth the while and that this can be substantiated through the outcomes that we anticipate. Otherwise, they will have only themselves to blame if different conclusions are drawn. Equally importantly, there will have to be some measure of monitoring in order to determine whether there is continuity to the understandings reached in Georgetown last week.