Rejected Guyana rice…urges authorities to act swiftly to keep market secureThe Panama rice market was established under the previous Administration through Government to Government negotiations but for the years of business between the two countries, only recently was a large shipment of rice rejected.Rice packed and ready for shipmentIn an interview with Guyana Times, former Agriculture Minister Leslie Ramsammy made it clear that someone in authority – more so the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) – dropped the ball by allowing the wrong rice to be shipped to Panama.He expressed fears that by so doing, the market has now been put in jeopardy and Government is not acting proactively enough to fix it.Ramsammy recalled that he visited Panama as the then Agriculture Minister in 2014, where he entered discussions on Guyana exporting rice to the country. He noted that at the time, Panama’s rice came largely from the United States and the country importing directly from Guyana would have positive effects on the price to consumers.“The new Panamanian President had not yet taken over. The transition was going on for the swearing in of the new President. A mutual friend introduced me to the man who was leading the transition. We had a discussion about trade with Panama and general collaboration in agriculture.”Former Agriculture Minister Leslie Ramsammy“In particular, we talked about rice. At the time, almost all of the rice Panama was importing came from the USA. We discussed the possible import of rice from Guyana. Since Panama was part of the Central America free trade arrangement with the USA, we recognised that there would be some difficulties overcoming the limitations that the free trade arrangement posed.“The President of Panama met with me personally and invited his Minister of Agriculture to attend the meeting. After meeting for about an hour, the Panamanian President instructed the Minister of Agriculture to immediately take me to meet with other officials and to ensure that arrangements are completed to import rice from Guyana.”“He also insisted that we meet with him again that afternoon to report on progress. We completed all arrangements for Panama to initially import packaged rice amounting to 50,000 tons annually in the initial period and for this to be increased in subsequent years,” Ramsammy explained.ShockedRamsammy also noted that the Private Sector was invited to visit Panama in order to negotiate deals for themselves. Some took that option. The arrangement, according to Ramsammy, included pre-shipping testing for quality. Fast forward to today and the former Minister expressed shock at what is happening now. He noted that if he was the current Agriculture Minister, he would “be on the next flight to Panama to provide assurances.”Current Agriculture Minister Noel Holder“I am shocked that more than 20 containers of rice shipped to Panama was rejected. Someone dropped the ball and risked a critical market for our rice. With the loss of the Venezuelan market in 2015, the Panama Market was not a perfect replacement but was a good buffer. We can expand this market and provide a relatively good price. In my time, I ensured that there was someone dedicated to ensuring all the prerequisites were met. I wanted to make sure that nothing represented a risk.”“It is a market that should be rigidly monitored to make certain that Panama is happy. I sent an officer to Panama every time a shipment was made. He worked with Panamanian officials to ensure things were seamless. We invited and hosted Panamanian officials in Guyana before any shipment was made. All of these arrangements have been discontinued. The Panama market is of critical importance and our nonchalant approach is risking this market. For a (Government) so obsessed with frivolous [Commissions of Inquiry] CoI’s, this requires a CoI.”It is understood that another shipment is expected to leave these shores soon for that country. This was related to Guyana Times by the President of the Guyana Rice Exports and Millers Association (GREMA), Rajindra Persaud following a meeting with rice millers held at the John Fernandes head office on Water Street, Georgetown on Monday.According to Persaud, in about another two weeks, Guyana will be required to resend some 20 containers of rice to the foreign country. The initial shipment of rice was rejected on arrival in Panama since it did not meet the stipulated specification as was outlined by that country.Since the story exploded on the front pages, GRDB General Manager Nizam Hassan has maintained that the Panama market is not under threat and steps to strengthen systems are being taken. However, stakeholders have called for a comprehensive investigation and the resignation of the GRDB board and current Agriculture Minister Noel Holder over the debacle.