Among the issues discussed at the recent Diaspora Engagement Conference were trade and investment, and the role the diaspora can play in helping to attract investment into Guyana, as well as assist in finding markets for local products and produce. Diaspora communities, apart from being sizable markets themselves for local products, usually play a useful role in introducing others in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, and places of worship to products from their homeland.
For many countries, diaspora communities represent sizable markets. It is for this reason that the Caribbean diaspora lobbied hard to ensure that trade and investment were included in the recent new US Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, and specifically speaks to the issue of market access. In Guyana’s case, several of our fresh fruits and vegetables for which there are big markets in Queens and Brooklyn alone are denied entry because we do not, and cannot, meet the food safety and other phytosanitary measures required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In order to meet these measures, a number of processes and inspections from farm to fork have to be part of a food safety policy, and must be in a set of regulations which the exporting country, in this case Guyana, must have in place.
In recent discussions with US officials, in my capacity as president of the Guyanese American Chamber of Commerce (GACC), about helping Guyana with training and equipment to move this process forward, it was pointed out that Guyana does not have a Food Safety Law, which should first be enacted before any meaningful assistance could be provided. I am informed that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved funding for a laboratory which, once operational, would be a key component of Guyana’s preparation to meet international requirements for exports of produce and food products.
So my question is: why doesn’t Guyana have a Food Safety Law? Brief research which I undertook revealed that a Food Safety Bill was drafted in 2013 arising from the IDB-funded Agricultural Export Diversification Programme (ADP). Usually reliable sources tell me that this Bill has languished ever since, due to “turf” competition between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health, a situation that has spanned both the former and the current administrations.
A requirement that would provide for millions of dollars of agricultural produce should not languish because two ministries can’t decide which would be “head honcho” of the proposed Food Safety Authority for which the draft Bill provides. Expanded exports of agricultural produce and products will not only earn foreign exchange for Guyana, but will generate hundreds of jobs as well as provide increased income for our farmers. I hope the cabinet of President David Granger will address this issue with a sense of urgency. If, for any reason, my usually reliable source has not fed me reliable information as to why this Bill is languishing, then I hope the relevant authority would explain the delay.