President David Granger: Prime Minister, Honourable Moses Nagamootoo; Vice President Carl Greenidge, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Honourable Dominic Gaskin, Minister of Business and Mrs. Gaskin; Honourable Catherine Hughes, Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Chairman of DDL, Mr. Komal Samaroo; Dr. Yesu Persaud, Director of DDL; members of the private sector, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen, members of the media:
Of course, I’m very happy and honoured to be here and to see the exhibition of the historical implements and devices, which were used for the production of rum in Guyana. Having grown up like [Prime Minister] Moses on the Corentyne, one would have been introduced first of all to ‘bush-rum’ and I was looking to see how ‘bush-rum’ was made. So I will, tomorrow morning, ask the Minister of Public Security to get from the police some of the equipment they have been seizing over the last 200 years in which poor people, who could not afford $500,000 bottles of liquor were making their rum, but ‘bush-rum’ I presume, is part of rural culture.
As has been said before by [Master Distiller Shaun] Mr. Caleb, the rum industry in Guyana is part of our economic heritage; rum most likely has been produced for as long as sugarcane has been grown in this country. As you know, the Dutch introduced sugarcane; it might have come this way from the Madeira Islands to Sao Tome in the Gulf of Biafra, then across to Pernambuco then of course to the three colonies, first Essequibo, then Berbice, and finally Demerara.
But rum production as we know it on an industrial scale became popular after the British introduced the technology of distillation, probably more than 350 years ago. So rum really is a Caribbean product more than from any other part of the world. It was in the Caribbean and particularly here in Guyana, we treasure our heritage. At one stage, as Mr. Caleb has said, there might have been more than 300 distilleries in this country, but now we have come down to two.
Rum has always been protected in Guyana and the planter class very jealously, and not surprisingly, exhorted its dominant control through the Court of Policy, which is what has now become the National Assembly, to restrict industrial production of rum. Rum under an ordinance enacted in 1855 could only be made from the product of sugarcane and according to the ordinance, and I quote, “It shall not be lawful for any person(s) to have or to keep any stilled apparatus whatever, for the purpose of making, rectifying or compounding spirits of any description without first having obtained a license for that purpose”.
I must say, it did not apply to Corentyne. [Laughter.] The said ordinance provided and I quote again, “no license shall be granted for the distillation of spirits from any other substance than the produce of the sugarcane”.
The Court of Policy’s protection of the sugar industry allowed for the development of dozens of micro distilleries but as you know, towards the middle of the 19th century; problems in the metropolitan sugar markets led to a contraction of the sugar industry and this prompted particularly under Josiah Booker, the consolidation and the reduction of the number of plantations and consequently; unhappily for the drinking classes, the number of distilleries.
The rum industry has evolved from over 300 micro distilleries to just two today. It is significant from the point of view of the economy, that two of the country’s largest corporations are also the two rum producers. So rum is a heritage industry in this country, it has always been an important contributor to the national economy. The production of alcoholic beverages increased from 20.3 million litres in 2012 to almost 24 million litres in 2014.
The industry, however, is in transition. As the Chairman pointed out, it is now concentrated on branded rum and in so doing it is moving steadily up the value change. They are looking for value, not for volume. Rum is a value-added product and it is a major contributor to our exports, a major contributor to our employment and most of all, from the point of view of the Minister of Finance, to excise revenue.
Guyana’s major export earners are still the ‘big six’ the ‘big six sisters’: bauxite, gold, fish, rice, sugar and timber. But the earnings of other products in 2014 were only US$119 million of which rum and other sprits earned $30 million or 25% apart from those six major exports.
The rum industry is part of Guyana’ beverage industry, which employs thousands of workers and indirectly through bars, hotels and of course traditional rum shops, helps to sustain employment for more than 20,000 other persons. Drink heartily, but drink responsibly; workers are depending on you for their wages.
Guyana’s two rum producers; Demerara Distillers Limited and Banks DIH together paid over $9.1 billion in taxes to the State last year. The domestic production of alcoholic beverages in 2015 contributed $3.4 billion in excise taxes to the State.
Foreigners, visitors usually remember a country because of their interaction with its people because of their visits to places of interest, and because of the consumption of its products. Guyana is now better known to millions of people around the world because of its acclaimed rums. Guyana’s rums have popularized our country. I remember a little more than a decade ago having had some business to do in the middle of Madrid, Spain; I looked up and I couldn’t believe the two Spanish words, ‘El Dorado’ so I moved closer, thinking it’s a Spanish rum, but it was Guyana’s rum being advertised in the middle of Spain – well done DDL. [Applause.]
If you go to the better dictionaries, you will see something called Demerara Sugar. Again, it was a source of some disappointment when I was in Kulula, Nigeria many years ago and I saw Demerara Sugar and I rushed to buy a packet [only] to discover it was made in Mauritius, so there are people who are imitating Demerara Sugar, but Demerara Rum is becoming as well-known as Demerara Sugar. So when you travel; ask for the real thing. Guyana’s rums are our best-known, manufactured products. The El Dorado brand, produced by this corporation, is a celebrated brand around the world.
The El Dorado brand and its variety of rums has earned international acclaim and has won international awards. DDL has preserved, it has persevered, it has protected and promoted the El Dorado brand, which carries with it the connotations, the suggestion of discovery, of exploration and of wealth and as you drink this rum – if you ever get your hands on a bottle – remember the old slogan, which was used to advertise a different brand some years ago ‘good liquor brings out the best and the worst in people; the best because of their taste, the worst because of their stinginess’ when you go into a home that has that rum they will probably give you something inferior. I see a Scot-Irish person looking at me because he expects me to say something about whisky, I wouldn’t.
El Dorado Rum is now firmly associated around the world with high-class Demerara rums. Guyana’s rum industry thrives because it has committed to high standards and quality assurance. It has devoted the time, the energy and resources necessary to developing a strong brand. It has aggressively sought new markets. It has aggressively nurtured consumer loyalty. Guyana’s rum industry is an important sector of the national economy. Rum production has allowed corporations to diversify their operations.
The industry has enabled the two corporate giants to diversify into banking, into beverages, into bottled water, into fast food, into restaurants, and into shipping. The industry has also become a corporate social contributor. Rum production is a profitable enterprise but for a small state such as ours, there are big threats. Rum is widely produced around the world and Guyana’s rums have to sell in a highly-competitive world market.
Guyana’s rums, seeking to enter new markets, have to compete not just with the rums that are produced in those markets, but also with other internationally marketed rums. Caribbean rum producers, therefore, face a major threat to their competitiveness owing to distorting measures implemented by major countries, in particular by the United States Federal Government. The allowance of a tax rebate estimated to be valued in the millions of dollars per annum, to producers in the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, distorts the market. The rebate acts as a subsidy to rum producers in those territories and affords an advantage over other Caribbean rums in the highly competitive international market.
The Caribbean Community’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) has protested against these discriminatory measures; measures which they see as inimical to the sale of Caribbean rums in the US market; measures which they feel threaten the long-term viability of this very important industry in our Region. Caribbean countries stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs unless there is fair trade in the rum industry.
Litigation is likely to be extremely expensive and exhausting. The Caribbean Community (and I am glad that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is here) must use its diplomatic strength to help to resolve this problem, which is affecting the health of our economies and the wealth of our countries.
Guyana’s rum industry is precious; it must be protected and preserved in the face of this peril. Workers’ jobs and the livelihood of those who indirectly depend on the industry are at stake. The loss of foreign exchange and excise earnings by the industry can result in severe problems in our economy. Guyana’s rums are an important economic sub-sector. It is in the national interest to ensure the survival and sustainability of this industry and the Government of Guyana is committed to supporting this industry.
Guyana celebrates its 50th Anniversary of Independence next month. Our local industries are stepping forward to help to make our celebrations memorable. DDL has unveiled today, the El Dorado 50th Anniversary Special Edition and I’m pleased to have the honour this afternoon to receive the first bottle of this limited edition.
We will inevitably look back at the past but also, we must look forward to the future. We must build the foundation for a stronger economy as we celebrate our country’s 50th Anniversary. DDL I’m assured is looking forward to the future; it is setting in cask three barrels of the special 50th Anniversary Special Edition Rum, which will be aged for another 25 years. I look forward to being here when that event comes around on the 75th Anniversary of Independence in 2041. [Laughter.]
The anniversary of our independence in 2041 must find us stronger as a nation and we have become stronger because we are paying greater attention to our industries, and the rum industry is one of them.
This afternoon I thank DDL for honouring our nation’s 50th Anniversary. I thank DDL for the attention it has paid to producing such excellent quality rum over the years and I thank you for your attention.