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Speaking at a press conference yesterday at the GNBS Sophia office, the Director, Dr. Chatterpaul Ramcharran, emphasised that in order for Guyana's products to gain access to international markets they must conform to international standards such as those set by the International Organisation of Standards (ISO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
"The Bureau of Standards continues with its mandate in 2003 to promote standardisation in order to improve the quality of goods produced, so as to enhance trade and to protect consumers. By standardisation I am referring here to the preparation of standards, the promotion of these standards and also the implementation and enforcement of these standards," the Director declared.
Ramcharran pointed out that several local manufacturers have been facing difficulties in accessing markets because of certification. Consequently, they have had to get their products certified by agencies abroad and this resulted in additional costs.
This is why the GNBS is moving towards equipping itself with the technical capacity to provide the level of service to avoid local manufacturers from having to seek certification abroad, he explained.
However, he pointed out that while the GNBS is responsible for developing standards, it is the regulatory agencies in the various sectors that are responsible for enforcing those standards.
"I would like to point out that the bureau primarily produces the standards for the different sectors of the economy. But the bureau itself is not involved in the implementation of all these standards. Once the bureau produces these standards they are issued to other regulatory bodies in the country for their management of the standards, implementation and enforcement.
"For example, the Food and Drugs Department, the Geology and Mines Commission, the Guyana Rice Development Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Guyana Forestry Commission and so on," Ramcharran explained.
The Director announced that the Jamaican National Bureau of Standards has requested that each of Guyana's shipments of rice to that country be accompanied by certification from the GNBS, failing which, shipments will be turned back.
He indicated that the GNBS will be complying with the request in association with the regulatory agencies in the rice sector, as the Jamaican rice market is very important for Guyana's economy.
During this year, the bureau will be increasing its competence and technical capacity to test scales of large capacity (bulk scales) because there is valid evidence, which indicates that "Guyana has been giving away rice", while in some cases it has been shipping underweight quantities, Ramcharran observed.
He related that great concerns have been expressed by the Guyana Consumers Association and the Public Utilities Commission over the accuracy of readings from electricity and water meters.
"They appear to be significant complaints," he said, pointing out that he will be meeting with the Building Inspectorate of the Ministry of Works and Communications in relation to the water meters and will be moving to acquire equipment for testing the meters.
In the meantime, the bureau will be demanding certificates of quality from importers of the meters.
In the first quarter of this year, mobile testing equipment and a legal metrology laboratory will be acquired at a cost of $20M to further boost the bureau's technical capacity, he reported.
Public Relations Officer of the GNBS, Ms. Evadney Fields, said the bureau is not satisfied with the pace with which metrication is being implemented, but observed there has been good support from the corporate sector.
She said there have been some misconceptions in relation to the change over to the metric systems. Sugar workers felt that the implementation of the metric system would have resulted in loss of pay.
However, the GNBS subsequently met representatives of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and gave the assurance that it would not be so. In fact, in some instances, the workers will gain, Fields related.
She added that following the meeting, GUYSUCO gave its full commitment to the metrication process.
Fields informed the media that the greatest difficulty in the conversion from imperial units to the metric system has been experienced in the retail sector.
She pointed out that consumers have expressed skepticism over pricing, because they felt that they would have to pay more for similar quantities of items measured in the metric system. As a result, consumers and retailers have been shifting blame to each other for the slow implementation of the metric system in the sector.
However, Fields gave the assurance that during this year the bureau will work among retailers to educate them in the conversion system in relation to pricing.
She also noted that the GNBS is working with the relevant agencies towards conversion from imperial to metric units in the legislative area.
She said that as part of its promotional campaign last year the bureau participated in the University of Guyana Fair and GUYEXPO, where it gathered, through questionnaires, scientific information from the public on the implementation of the metric system.
Mr. Jowala Somai of the Management Systems Department of the GNBS, said that during this year, product certification will be intensified among micro and small enterprises to enhance their capacities to access markets. He said that during last year, eight local manufacturers received product certification, including six jewellers and two manufacturers of PVC products.
Mr. Balwant Algu of the same department also related that to date the GNBS has published 187 standards, which are available for purchasing and which encompass a wide range of products. At present, 14 draft standards are being reviewed for publication, while five critical CARICOM standards relating to rum, packaged water and poultry meat and poultry products, among others, are being reviewed.
Highlighting some of the bureau's achievements in standards compliance last year, Ramcharran said that 1,037 inspections of various commercial entities were carried out. The GNBS found that most entities complied with labelling requirements. However, 444 defective used tyres were destroyed.
Imported fertilisers were also monitored to ensure adherence to quality and labelling requirements, he added.
Ramcharran said that for the past year, 94 importers of commodities and 50 used tyres dealers registered with the GNBS.
Asked whether the bureau intends to decentralise its operations, the Director said that during last year, Weights and Measures offices were established in far-flung regions, and an office is located in New Amsterdam, but because of a lack of resources it would be some time before full-fledged offices are established in the regions.