Kaieteur News – The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GGCI) is becoming a nuisance. Its most recent publicity-grabbing release expresses its disagreement with the intention of the Guyana government’s decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding.
In a statement, the GCCI stated that there are still many Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) instituted by Trinidad and Tobago which prevent Guyanese exports to that country and which it claims inhibits the growth of local enterprises. It urged that these NTBs be removed.
The Chamber did not state whether these NTBs were specific to Guyana. If that indeed were the case, an MOU would be a good mechanism to begin the process of having them removed.
This is precisely what Second Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo may have been hinting at when he told the media that you just can’t complain about the barriers. He expressed the hope that the MOU would be a step towards resolving the matter.
Bilateral negotiations have proven highly successful in resolving barriers to entry of Guyana’s exports to the twin-island Republic. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was able to successfully negotiate for the removal of technical barriers, which had inhibited the exports of peppers and pineapples.
Every country has a right to impose technical measures to protect its health and safety. And among those measures is what is known as phytosanitary measures that are aimed at protecting a country’s agricultural sector from imported pests and other diseases.
The United States and Canada have far stricter requirements in this regard. Try walking through JFK Airport with leafy vegetables or parts of plants and see how quickly these will be confiscated or try taking certain meats into Canada and see how easily they will be dumped.
Despite making representation as high as the level of Secretary State, Guyana has so far been unable to revoke the US ban of Guyana’s catfish. But nobody rants about the US’ highly protective NTBs; instead, the GCCI chooses to pick on Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad and Tobago does have restrictive NTBs. But which country, including Guyana, does not?
Guyana has been the chief culprit when it comes to the imposition of barriers to regional trade, through both tariff and non-tariff measures. With respect to tariff measures, Guyana was taken to the CCJ for its decision to give advantages to extra regional cement. It lost that case. It was also taken to the CCJ over the imposition of an environmental tax on imports of beverages from Suriname. It lost that case also.
Not that Trinidad is not at fault in respect to some of these NTBs’. Its restrictions, for example, on the importation of honey remain a highly contentious issue. Trinidad does not allow the honey to even pass through in-transit through its borders.
But if the GCCI feels that NTBs in Trinidad and Tobago are a problem, it needs to take the mole out of its own eye. Guyana’s NTBs are no less restrictive.
One of the main NTBs is import licensing requirements. If you compare the important licensing requirements of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, it would reveal that Guyana is far more trade restrictive than the twin-island Republic.
In terms of the technical measures, which are used to protect health and safety, there is not much difference between the two countries. Guyana wants to export more agricultural produce to Trinidad and this objective is frustrated by the technical and often archaic technical barriers, which have been erected by the twin-island. But had the roles been reversed, it would have been Trinidad which would have been complaining about the local technical requirements.
Importers in Guyana have had nightmares dealing with Government Analyst Food and Drug Department and the Bureau of Standards. At one time, the former was demanding that importers produce a free sale certificate before its imports could be allowed. So what happens if the product, which you are importing is produced strictly for the export market and is not sold in the exporter’s domestic market? Ask importers about the requirements, paperwork and time spent in order to get approvals from the Bureau of Standards and the Analyst Department.
When President Ali was inaugurated, he promised a Single Window for trade. Importers and exporters are still waiting for the window to be operationalised.
UNCTAD did a study on Guyana’s trade governance. In that study, it noted that while there are some external barriers to Guyana’s exports, the NTBs are mostly imposed for legitimate health and safety concerns. It said that Guyana’s failure to meet the standards demanded by the NTBs is more attributable to local capacity gaps rather than foreign protectionism.
The GCCI therefore should be more circumspect with its outbursts. It should be more concerned about rectifying the problems faced by Guyana’s frustrating and business-unfriendly trade regulations and agencies, before seeking to condemn Trinidad and Tobago.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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