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Saturday, February 18, 2006
Shape up, or close down

Manufacturers beware:

`They may very well have to close shop and function as agents for products coming from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad’ – GNBS head Dr Chatterpaul Ramcharran

By Neil Marks

LOCAL manufacturers have to shape up and improve the quality of their products to meet new challenges from companies in the Caribbean or they may have to close down.

That’s the blunt warning from Executive Director of the Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS), Dr Chatterpaul Ramcharran.

Imports from the Caribbean, he said, are being checked for quality at ports of entry here, to prevent substandard goods getting into the local market with the advent of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

Conversely, Guyanese companies which fail to measure up could face the squeeze regionally, he said.

Ramcharran warned that local companies could also lose out on the local market, since consumers would go for better quality and packaged imported products sold cheaper than the same items made here.

“They may very well have to close shop and function as agents for products coming from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad. This is the reality of the CSME, if our manufacturers, producers, and processors don’t jump proactively on the bandwagon and implement standards,” he said.

Guyana is among six Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states that last month signed on to the Caribbean Single Market.

Ramcharran, in an interview with the Sunday Chronicle, noted that products from the Caribbean which fail to meet quality standards would be barred from the local market.

Since November last year, he said, GNBS officers have been stationed at ports of entry and operate through cooperation with the Customs and Trade Administration (CTA).

He explained that the bureau is working to harmonize national standards with regional standards prepared by the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality.

“We have to monitor imports. The fact that the CSME is effective now, the markets are open. We cannot restrict products coming into the market, so a lot of regional products would end up on the Guyanese market.”

“We have to ensure the products comply with the same regional standards. We’ve forged cooperation with CTA and we have inspectors monitoring customs entries, and stamping those entries and holding for inspections at bonds and warehouses. We also monitor shipping manifests, so we can know who is bringing what from where, beginning to zero in on quality of imports,” he said.

The system is working and importers are seeing the need to comply with the GNBS requirements, the bureau chief reported. He said that before the CSM, only about 20-25 importers would register with the agency but now it has a roll of 105 and more are coming on board.

This is sending a signal to importers to carefully select suppliers who produce and sell quality goods, Ramcharran said.

On the local front, GNBS is encouraging more companies to implement the ISO 9001 standard in order to have a fair footing in the regional market space.

So far, only four companies have been able to upgrade their operations to achieve the standard: Edward B. Beharry and Company, Demerara Oxygen Company, Demerara Distillers Limited, and more recently, the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s Blairmont estate.

Ramcharran said four more companies are in a state of readiness, while six others are in the pipeline. However, for other companies, the GNBS is trying to get them involved in the national standards mark scheme.

“This would make it possible for their products to be distinguishable on the local and regional markers, putting them at tremendous advantage,” Ramcharran said, since the national standard mark is based on international standards.

The bureau has also put in place a national standard scheme for micro and small enterprises “so that their products would have a better market value.”

“Whether large, small, medium or micro, local companies will have to implement the relevant standards. They have to upgrade or enhance their operations, put quality systems in place, so their products can become recognized, and be able to participate in free trade.”

He warned that it would be a “sad mistake” if companies do not do this and cited the example of poultry and poultry products.

Ramcharran said the Regional Organization for Standards and Quality has extended the deadline for poultry and table eggs producers to comply with agreed standards.

Suppliers of poultry meat and poultry products have until January 2007, while those supplying table eggs have until January 2008 to comply.

If local producers and suppliers fail to implement the standards, they may have to close, he pointed out.

“Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados would be able to flood the Guyanese market with table eggs and poultry products – poultry products that are well packaged, well labeled, well graded, and at competitive prices. What this means is that Guyanese would go for these products, and the Guyanese products on the Guyanese market would not be sold.”

He sees no difficulty with the informal arrangement whereby small scale poultry producers sell to their neighbours and those in their villages in small qualities, but warns they too can come in for the competition.

“If I need a couple of eggs and I can go over to my neighbour and get a few, I would buy…But then if I see eggs on the market that are well packaged, well labeled, well graded, and if the price is right, I would buy it and forget about my neighbour. This is the stark reality,” Ramcharran insisted.

As it stands, he said, only a few local producers can comply with the standards that have been set up.

He stressed that local companies should take standards seriously or risk going out of business.

Guyana Chronicle