By: Kiana Wilburg
Rice from Pakistan.
Tamarind balls and coconut water from Thailand.
Packaged roti and dhal puri from Suriname.
These are just five of many imported items that are slowly taking over local markets.
In the face of this, many entrepreneurs acknowledge that Guyana is already producing some of these products and has the potential to manufacture many other imported goods.
So what is causing the proliferation and domination of these imported products? Is it an indication that our manufacturing sector will soon lose its relevance and die a slow death? Does it signify that our manufacturers are being stifled by a less than enabling environment? Or are they just too lazy to be innovative and competitive?
According to manufacturers, one of the main reasons for the saturation of imported products which can and are being produced here, has to do with the culture of the manufacturing sector itself.
One manufacturer said: “I think this culture of the manufacturing sector has changed and there are a number of reasons why it has moved from being an extremely diverse area in our economy to one that is filled with numerous traders. And it is simple. It is just easier and cheaper to trade. It isn’t easy becoming a manufacturer here. That is like a philosophical ideal of a job now. In the 70s and 80s, Guyana’s manufacturing sector was an extremely vibrant and innovative field. We were producing all of our own jellies, matches, detergents, milk, cheese, cooking condiments, house hold appliances etc.
“Then all of a sudden, we ended up in an environment where the culture of manufacturing is about some traditional items like rums, paint, rice and sugar. This 10 to 18 percent growth rate that we keep talking about in the manufacturing sector is really false too because the only thing that keeps it up in that bracket is rice and sugar producers. Take them out and you would really see where the manufacturing sector’s growth is at. We are stagnant.”
Another manufacturer, CEO of Umami Products, Chris Persaud believes that the current state of the sector is due to, among other things, the failure of manufacturers to adapt to the relevant technology.
He said that manufacturers should be upset that products such as roti, dhal puri, sweet tamarind and coconut water are being imported.
“I am upset by that and we have a right to be upset. We have to be upset when we see imported plantain chips taking over the local markets. But why cry? Because we have the product already here but some manufacturers just don’t want to put the effort into doing proper and effective packaging.
“Before Umami products came into the market, there were a lot of pepper sauces on the market. But what did we do? We didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or cry about what is taking over the market. We polished the wheel and now our products are on top. Packaging and branding is a simple but effective technique. The only way we will improve is if we move away from the mindset that putting some plantain chips in a bag and sealing it with a little bit of wax is acceptable. We have to move forward from that. We can’t be content with that…”
Another manufacturer, from the agro-processing field, believes that the tardiness by the authorities in passing Investment Agreements is also hindering the sector. The manufacturer said that this is an important element in having an enabling environment to encourage manufacturers.
She stressed that some manufacturers may have the desire to be innovative but Guyana’s slow systems can place a damper on one’s plans to “shake up the industry.”
Other manufacturers believe that the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) needs to put an end to its annual excuse that high electricity is plaguing the sector needs to come to an end.
They posit that it was an issue in the 90s and it never killed the manufacturing sector then and it is not responsible for the state of affairs today.
“What we need are the right concessions from Government, a willingness from financial institutions to be more lender-friendly to manufacturers and the GMSA to actually do its work.”
GMSA Head, Eon Caesar was unavailable yesterday for comment. In the meantime, several other members of the GMSA Executive Committee agreed that it is indeed an embarrassment to the sector that certain products which can be produced and packaged here, are dominating the local markets.
They chalked it up to the laziness of some manufacturers and their failure to be inventive.
One member in particular opined that the saturation of the markets with some imported goods can also be attributed to the failure of agencies such as the Bureau of Standards to ensure that low quality or inferior products do not make it into the markets.
But Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Eddie Boyer did not see anything wrong with similar products being brought into the market. For him, it all serves to promote competition.
He insists that consumers have the right to choose between a product that is made here and one that is imported. He said that before, there existed some level of protectionism for local manufacturers but that is long gone. The crux of his perspective was that the presence of imported products challenges local manufacturers to be more competitive and to essentially “up their game.”
Finance Minister, Winston Jordan who is expected to meet with the GMSA this week, has been unashamedly critical of the Association for crying out about the challenges it faced; challenges which have been affecting the sector “since Noah built the ark.”
He bemoaned the fact that no product of Guyanese origin is a household name in Caricom, save and except El Dorado rum.
Jordan acknowledges that strides have been made by some in the sector. Regardless of this, the Finance Minister believes that the sector can do much more and has been doing much more in the past.
“I reflect on the 1970s and 1980s – periods in our history that were characterized by economic crises that led to banning and restrictions of many items. And I recall the inventions, innovations and the sheer will to survive that those crises called forth.”
“In those trying times, more goods were manufactured, canned or assembled domestically: vehicles, bicycles, refrigerators, freezers, radio, matches, tooth paste, etc. In the agriculture sector, we had canned pineapple and orange juice, smoked and other forms of ham, salted fish, and so forth.
“Even in the 1980s, an enterprising Frenchman took heart of palm, canned it in a place not known for its electricity, and exported the finished product to French Guiana and France.”
The Finance Minister said, that too many of Guyana’s private sector players seem content to chase after the quick dollar by importing a lot of cheap products to be sold in a low-wage economy. He said that some of the items are of such poor quality and low standard that he marvels at how they could find a market in Guyana.
Jordan said that manufacturing in Guyana must become a key driver of rapid economic growth, and the associated creation of employment, both directly and indirectly.
The economist said that there is considerable accumulated evidence that manufacturing still functions as the heart of the economic development process. Jordan said that to transcend the dominant and traditional revenue earners, “we must manufacture. We must add value.”
To be continued …
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