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GuyExpo 2005

The government of Guyana is trying very hard to attract visitors and entrepreneurs to Guyana. So said President Jagdeo who implored the audience in an impassioned plea at the recent GuyExpo 2005 at York College in New York City. Minister of Tourism Mansoor Nadir likewise showcased Guyana for luring tourists during an earlier visit to New York.
Let me dwell on the recent GuyExpo. President Jagdeo spoke of his government’s positive climate to woo investors to Guyana. He was warmly welcomed on the opening night of GuyExpo 2005 by a very large cross-section of Guyanese Americans and other wellwishers, including Councilman Leroy Comrie, Congressman Gregory Meeks, (and Tom White and Allan Jennings). And he has become quite adept at ‘working the crowd’.

This GuyExpo was organized by GoInvest headed by Jeff DaSilva. Jeff DaSilva was formerly Consul General of the Guyana Consulate in Toronto. He has done a wonderful job in highlighting some of Guyana exquisite and sometimes unique products to the American consumer. There were avant garde nibi (wicker) furniture, clothing of distinctive designs, leather crafts, sculpture, agricultural produce (Guyana’s vegetables, sugar, rice), condiments (for curries, casareep), drug manufacturing notably by GPC and Twins. Also, there were educational activities for children depicting Guyana’s flora and fauna, Powerpoint presentation of outsourcing for US companies, and Tourism videos.

Most of these were excellent. The exhibits could have been spaced out to allow more room for one-on-one discussions. Better lighting could have enhanced the night viewing. Overall, GuyExpo reminded Guyanese here in New York of the beauty of their homeland and of the vast potential therein and, in this sense, may be claimed a success.

Now for the down side.

For the discriminating observer it would appear that most of the display stalls were intent on vending their products rather than ‘selling’ the idea or concept of import-export and investments in Guyana. Also there were no give-aways or samples.

Here in New York people quickly become acculturated to their new environment and fall victim to the dominant culture. Thus, families are pressured into the culture of $100+ sneakers, hipster pants (with ample mid-section exposure), as well as below-the-hip baggy pants. Adult Guyanese, male mostly, give preference to vodka and rum, the cool cigarette, and partying. Whatever time is left after a hard week at the workplace is spent to garner food from the numerous supermarkets and ethnic stores. Do they care for the stunted bigan displayed in one of the stalls? Or the indisputable best pineapple in the world? Or Guyana’s rice or sugar? Or the hard leather shoes and sandals, et cetera?

People forget quickly. More important the breadwinner does not emotionalize when shopping. Most of the people think with their pocket books. Therefore, marketing, packaging and shipping must make Guyana’s product more attractive and competitive for the North American consumer. Without a doubt agriculture subsidies in the U.S. will rule out certain products, notably rice and sugar. The playing field is not level for fair competition. Therefore, it would be sensible to look into products where Guyana can compete reasonably well.

Do you know that most of the seafoods (hassar, tilapia, Suriname mullet, crab, schrimp, etc.) consumed by Guyanese in North America are not imported from Guyana? Do you know that most of the fruits and vegetables (mango, banana, genip, citrus, guava, bora, squash, pumpkin, bigan, eddo, plantain, cassava – you name it) consumed by Guyanese in North America are not imported from Guyana? What of other products such as clothing, furniture, gold? Are these coming from Guyana? No. Are the prices and quality for the products competitive? These are the bottom line! No amount of emotional appeal would mean anything to the average person. No one is going to be cajoled by the occasional VIP visits and the rendering of patriotic songs.

And finally, during the GuyExpo visit there was a sanitized silence on the state of crime and how this may affect would-be investors – to allay fears – for perceptually there is always nagging stories of the ‘crime situation’.

Guyana is blessed in many ways. (It is cursed in others.) Guyana has to adopt a positive direction in agricultural diversification. Agriculture subsidies in the first world countries will always work against fair competition in trade of certain products. Therefore, let there be greater emphasis in others. Guyana is second to none in its pristine natural beauties, its cuisines, its music and medley of cultures. Tourism should be emphasized to such an extent that it can be the envy of other South American and Caribbean countries. And finally, finally, politicians, officials and quasi-officials must get off their high horse, remove their stuffed-up attitude and pseudo intellectual poise and obsequiousness when they deal with people – wherever and whenever. Public relations must be foremost in their approach. Guyanese visits and remittances can make a valuable and significant contribution to the country’s foreign exchange.

The arm of the government in New York, which is in practice a mere passport office designed as the Guyana consulate, should be mandated to be actively involved in tourism and trade activities – to do the research and marketing.

– Gary Girdhari
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