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Guyana and the North American food export market

Guyana and the North American food export market

Posted by Shanelle Weir on July 15, 2014

In May this year a small group of Canadian businessmen came to Guyana to examine the prospects for increasing the volume and variety of local farm produce and agro-processed goods being imported into Canada. It would seem, based on what the businessmen told this newspaper, that the demand for ‘home tastes’ continues to grow among Guyanese and Caribbean people in the diaspora so that groceries in Toronto, among other locations in Canada, are keen to respond to the demand of the market for mostly more local herbs, spices, sauces and condiments.

One of the visiting businessmen, a Guyanese by birth, had said during our interview with him that he was particularly pleased to be part of the mission. He was hoping, he said, that one of the outcomes of the mission would be that he would be able to import much larger volumes of a greater variety of spices and condiments manufactured in Guyana into Canada.

It is good news that there are better market possibilities for our farmers and agro-processors in Canada. On the other hand the fact that trade between and amongst countries has become increasingly intertwined with a much broader swathe of issues – food security, health and safety and national security being a few of them – even bilateral trade in decidedly modest quantities of agricultural and agro-processed commodities between Guyana and Canada cannot be taken for granted; it is no longer a matter of just sourcing and shipping.

Leaving Canada aside for the moment, not nearly enough has been done about this country’s threatened – or perhaps even actual – loss of United States markets for our food exports arising out of official inattention to Washington’s most recent food safety legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). What it is important to know about the FSMA is that it empowers the US authorities to ensure, as far as possible, and by such means as they deem necessary, that foods consumed by its citizens do not pose risks to their health, The law, for example, empowers the US administration to request that its inspectors be allowed to visit exporting countries to satisfy themselves that the workers, the raw material, the machinery and the environment associated with the production of the intended food exports are not likely to pose any risk to the safety of consumers in the United States. The exporting country is, of course, entirely at liberty to refuse permission for such visits to take place, except, of course, that, at best, the product in question would not be allowed entry into the US.

Canada, which, along with the US, is our most important market for farm produce and agro-processed foods has also, over time, put in place a thicket of legislation designed to enhance its national food safety regime. What ought to be of particular importance to local farmers and agro-processors are the provisions of the Canadian Agricultural Products (CAP) Act which sets national standards and grades for agricultural products (which, for the most part would be Guyana’s primary interest) and regulates the marketing of agricultural products in import/export and international trade. Apart from providing for the licensing of dealers, CAP regulations also embrace grading, labelling and packaging, including issues like the standardization of sizes.

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