GCCI President, Clinton Urling’s Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Berbice Expo & Trade Fair 2013

His Excellency President Donald Ramator,

Honorable Minister Irfaan Alli

Chairman of the Tourism Authority

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Distinguished Leaders of Business Associations;

Distinguished Business Leaders, Owners and Executives,

Media

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Greetings, allow me at the outset, to salute and commend the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce for organizing this Expo.

An Expo like the one staged here by the Central Corentyne Chamber offers a unique opportunity for businesses in the region to showcase products and services that stand the test of domestic and global acceptance and competitiveness. It is such Expos that can spur greater trade and investments that are so crucial in leveraging Guyana’s economic growth.

As a business leader, I could not hope for anything more apt and transformational than this path-breaking event. For too long, the Guyana business sector has, wittingly or otherwise, taken a back seat in promoting expositions of the type mounted here. The common lament and carping is that the private sector is still nascent and in its embryonic stage; that it is inadequately recognised, appreciated and empowered and is thus incapable of taking the lead in organising major trade and industry Expos—Such notions should be debunked. Of course, The Guyana government and Go-Invest retain a primary role in galvanizing and catalyzing Expos of different types to promote exports and showcase domestic market capacities and products. Yet time is nigh for the private sector to begin a process of taking command and forging what is fundamentally a business responsibility.

It is against this backdrop that this expo is highly commendable and deserves a huge round of applause. I must also commend the Ministry of Toursm Industry and commerce, led by the enthusiastic, mindful and supportive Minister Irfaan Alli, for collaborating with the CCCC to make this Expo a reality. MINTIC must also be commended for collaborating with the GMSA to host this year’s premier trade Exposition: GUYEXPO. Moreover, the government of Guyana recognizes the importance of putting the business sector at the heart of promoting trade and investments and the upcoming Economic Forum, organized in close Partnership with the Private Sector Commission, epitomizes the centrality of making the private sector the principal driver of growth and economic development. For this the government must be emphatically applauded.

Standards and Competitiveness

In a global world, where people and markets have the whole world to choose from, it is imperative for countries and companies to achieve a competitive position amongst their peers and one that earns them international recognition and attention. It must have been with this reality in mind that the organizers of this expo chose the theme, “Raising our Standards, Enhancing our Competitiveness.”

Raising our companies’ standards is a pivotal component of a highly competitive economy and has an important role to play in supporting the competitiveness of Guyanese businesses in the global market. When we speak of standards, we mean standards we set for our own businesses and standards set out by regulatory agencies. Both have a very important role to pay in enhancing our competitiveness.

At the most fundamental level, high standards allow our businesses to apply tried and tested best practices to their business. They encourage a business to focus on the products or services being delivered, the processes being followed and the way the business is managed overall. They provide a practical framework for the review and continuous improvement of different areas, and can make a business more efficient, improve the quality of its products and services, assist in obtaining new customers and ultimately boost the all-important bottom line.

Moreover, standards demonstrate the quality of a company’s products and services, which will help to attract new customers and retain existing ones; they add credibility to a business and increase the confidence of its customers by demonstrating a commitment to quality, safety and reliability. Standards provide reassurance and inspire consumers’ trust. Adhering to Standards can help businesses market their products and services internationally. Standards and associated certification marks are a widely recognised and respected sign of commitment to quality, and can prove a beneficial addition to the image of a company and its marketing activities.

Standards also contribute to higher levels of trade, and in particular can be a major boost to exports – The use of international standards aids access and entry of local firms products to international markets, by reducing information asymmetries. Using standards as part of an export strategy can create new business opportunities and increased sales, with reduced trading costs.

With our numerous trade agreements, high Standards helps our firms gain easy access and overcome most of the technical and non-technical barriers of those agreements.

On the Macro economic level, many studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between standardization in the economy on productivity, job creation and overall economic growth.

It is my firm view that Standards should form an important part of our companies and our government’s strategy to ensure our firms remain competitive in the current domestic and global market. It has never been a better time to use standards and call for upgraded standards as is the aim and mission of this year’s EXPO.

Politics

When we talk about improving Guyana’s competitiveness, we must talk about the need for lower electricity costs. Our firms simply cannot compete globally with the current high cost of electricity.  Hence our unequivocal support for the GPL modernization project and the Amaila Falls Hydro Project. Our policy makers must put aside partisan differences and band together for the actualization of this national development project. I take this opportunity to reiterate the position of the Georgetown Chamber and the PSC that all parliamentarians should support the passage of the Guarantee of Loans (Public Corporations and Companies) Act” and the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013.

Critics of the project have said that it is shrouded in secrecy, yet they still seem to have sufficient information to pronounce on the demerits of the project.  At least one Opposition political party have said at one point that their support for the project will depend on IDB’s assessment and at others it is contingent on voting on local government elections bills and the establishment of the Procurement Commission.  This to me is saying that we believe in the soundness of the project but our support is contingent on certain conditions. I say, if you genuinely believe the project is sound support it without conditions and if you believe it is flawed, oppose it with or without conditions.

I say to you Mr. President, If the opposition parliamentary parties do not have confidence in all the studies and presentations done so far that shows the viability and feasibility of the Amaila falls project, I humbly suggest the appointment of an independent and credible international firm, acceptable to both government and opposition, to do a current survey and assessment of the project’s economic viability. This will settle once and for all this issue and ensure national buy-in. A small price to pay to end the current stalemate.

We live in interesting times that are rich with unique opportunities for businesses to tap and exploit. Guyana offers such a market potential. But we are threatened by an unstable and unpredictable political environment that threatens the stability and growth that we have seen in our economy over the past 7 years. I call on good sense to prevail and urge both government and opposition to continue meaningful and constructive engagement on issues that have significant national implications to arrive at consensus and bipartisan positions in the interest of Guyana.

I thank you, CCCI, for your lofty initiative and for making me and the Georgetown Chamber part of it.

I wish the Expo great success. THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS