GMSA calls for relaxed importation rules to be reviewed

The Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) is calling for a review of the rules that govern the importation of food and other products, which were previously relaxed following the outcry of some local importers.

GMSA President Rafeek Khan

In a statement on Friday, the GMSA reminded of the crucial role that the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD) plays in maintaining the nation’s health and well-being as a regulatory body on the importation of food, drugs and other like materials into Guyana.
Against this backdrop, the Association “…request that the relaxing of the rules mandated by law regarding the importation of food and other products into Guyana, be re-examined.”
The GMSA pointed out that while it had been actively engaging and lobbying the Ministry of Health, under which the GMSA falls, to relax the importation provisions outlined in the law, this arrangement is not going as planned.

GA-FDD Head Dr Marlan Cole

“We are concerned that the agreement created which allows for the importation of items on the basis of documentation from a non-regulatory body in Florida, is not working as was initially intended since we continue to see questionable items imported into the country based on documentation from the said body in Florida,” the missive detailed.
That non-regulatory body is Enterprise Florida, which is a non-profit, public-private entity that certifies products for export on behalf of the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Initially, the GA-FDD had refused to accept certificates of Free Sale issued by Enterprise Florida for goods being imported from that State. Instead, it demanded certificates from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which no longer issues such documents. That function is now being carried out by Enterprise Florida.
As such, following an outcry by some local importers and the intervention of the Government, the GA-FDD eventually relaxed its position last year and started accepting the Enterprise Florida-issued certificates but only for goods that are being bought from wholesalers in Florida. Importers who are sole distributors of goods are still required to obtain FDA certificates for their shipments.
But now, the GMSA says that some “questionable” items have been imported in Guyana with certificates from Enterprise Florida. Hence, the Association’s call for the use of documentation from Enterprise Florida to be reviewed.
“While we are cognizant of the many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues associated with the global supply chain, we should not compromise on the nation’s health and well-being. The Standards regarding the origin, labelling and naming of local distributors on labels where necessary is very clear, however, this standard is being flouted in some cases, while our sister Caricom countries rigidly enforce this,” the Association contended.
According to the GMSA, these actions are contradictory to the spirit of the recently passed Local Content Act. To this end, it also called on the Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony, to ensure the compliance of rules, regulations, and standards and to empower the GA-FDD to so do.
Meanwhile, the Association also expressed concerns about the local Food and Drug Department apparently being without a head in the absence of its Director, Marlon Cole.
Guyana Times understands that Cole is currently on leave. When contacted on Friday, he explained that he had 113 days’ accumulated vacation leave and was asked since November 2021 to go on leave. He indicated that he is scheduled to return in March.
Nevertheless, the GMSA said it has been monitoring the recent developments at the Department and believes that its current state could reverse all the progress made over the years to maintain the health and well-being of the country as the premier regulatory body for the importation of food, drugs and other such materials.
“Over the last few years, the GA-FDD had made significant strides towards delivering on its mandate to the nation. The GMSA, through the Agro-Processing Sub-sector Chairman, indicated that there is a seeming lack of leadership as a result of the Director’s absence, which could call this quality reputation of GA-FDD into question, hinder progress and also raises concerns of transparency and accountability,” the Association asserted in its statement on Friday.
On this note, it urged that the Health Ministry’s Food and Drug Department be empowered to carry out its mandate independently and effectively.