There is a foreign currency problem in Guyana. This week certain businesses are demanding an exchange rate of $235 for $US1. In part, reduced export earnings have played a major role in the depreciation the Guyana dollar is experiencing. Reduced earning from fish export is part of this story.
More than a year has elapsed since the American Government banned the export of Siluriformes fish and shrimp from Guyana. Neither the Minister of Agriculture nor the Minister of Public Health, ministers with responsibilities for various aspects of the fish export process, knew there was a problem and both lacked answers at the time, February 3, 2018, when the Americans banned the export of certain fish from Guyana. At the time, like many in the fishing industry, I by flummoxed by the lack of knowledge and by the disinterest that these ministers displayed. They were missing in action, MIA, guilty of dereliction of duty. It is inexcusable, it is now more than a year and these ministers are still guilty of dereliction of duty, neither willing to take responsibility for this major assault on the fishing industry.
On more than a few occasions, I and others have reminded these ministers and the APNU+AFC Cabinet that this ban is a devastating blow to the fishing industry, to Guyana’s export and the overall economy. We have reminded them that the prerequisites for restarting the trade are not beyond Guyana’s capacity to overcome. For more than a year, these ministers fiddled while the fishing export continued to be harmed.
Last week, the Minister of Agriculture claimed it was not his disinterest, but the bureaucratic wrangling between officials of the Ministries of Agriculture and Public Health have contributed to little or no action in meeting the requirements for the resumption of fish export to America. This is a betrayal of the fishermen and those in the export business and it is another example of the gross incompetence, mismanagement and disinterest that have led to the overall no-confidence in the David Granger-led APNU+AFC Government. This is a government which readily blames the PPP and others for anything that goes wrong in Guyana, but is unwilling to recognize its failures and find remedies.
Let us call a spade a spade. The Ministers of Agriculture and Public Health are responsible for the loss of the fish export market to America. They are unequivocally guilty of dereliction of duty. APNU+AFC destroyed the sugar industry, leaving thousands unemployed and depriving Guyana of much-needed foreign currency. Similarly, their mismanagement has led to a significant reduction of export earnings from rice and gold. Now, for more than a year since the Americans restricted and banned certain fish export, the Ministers of Agriculture and Public Health have been twiddling their thumbs, playing politics and busy jetting around the world, while the fishing industry is threatened, leaving thousands of fishermen fearful of their and their families’ future.
America demanded there was a presence of inspectors, documentation detailing verification of each step in the sanitation and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) process and documentation specifying how the industry manages adulterated catfish products.
These are not new requirements for Guyana. To varying extent, Guyana has had to meet these standards in the past. Guyana’s inspection system has been designed to meet European Union (EU) standard. Previously, these standards were more onerous than the standards America required. Guyana had updated our standards to meet the EU standards as part of the EPA (European Partnership Agreement). As our export partners expanded and increased their trade requirements, Guyana acted decisively to stay current with the requirements up to May 2015. Since then, under a new government, Guyana has shown a troubling disinterest in keeping up with the evolving standards.
Meeting the evolving standards, even if these standards are “protectionist” policies, is doable. Guyana demonstrated an effective capacity to meet such demands before May 2015. In this instance, the US Government gave Guyana notice since November 2015, more than 18 months before the provisions were to become effective, in May 2017. In fact, the US extended the deadline to February 3, 2018. We simply ignored the warnings from America.
Now, one year after the ban was implemented, the fishermen and their families continue to be collateral damage. As boats become idle and more Guyanese become unemployed, there was a deafening silence from the APNU+AFC, followed now by assigning blame to wrangling bureaucrats. The Ministers of Agriculture and Public Health, even with the powerful new Food Safety Act, enacted in 2017, which strengthened the regulatory capacities of these ministries, continue to be disinterested, fast asleep at the wheels.